Sixth time charmed: long spring trip report from grayelf (Pt 1)
Thanks to this thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/681808?tag=search_results;results_list
and our slow accumulation of favourite places, we managed to show my parents an excellent time eating and sightseeing during our late March trip to San Francisco, our version of a “greatest hits.” We arrived on time and BARTed into town to check in, buy some Fage yogurt for the next day’s brekky and trundle down the hill on the California Line to our 7:45 reservation at Perbacco for mum’s belated birthday dinner.
We were seated immediately on the mezzanine as requested and then I think it took us 15 minutes to figure out what to order– that is some menu :-). $240 all in for four got us the small salumi misti ($18); everyone had a favourite and the small was not. Appetizers were piastra roasted octopus and poached veal tongue with gold potatoes, celery heart and salsa verde ($12; no surprise this was Dad’s pick), fritto misto of rock shrimp, cardoon, green beans, olive (deep fried olives, yes!), fennel, lemon aioli ($11; my pick), roasted baby beet roots, gorgonzola bombolino, beet green and hazelnut pesto ($10; Mum’s choice and the highlight of the four) and warm salad of new spuds, black chanterelles, smoked pancetta, peas and tendrils ($10; the SO went for this one and how could it miss?). All but the SO opted for app sized pastas in lieu of mains: agnolotti quadrati filled with Devil’s Gulch rabbit and truffled sugo d’arrosto $12 (dad); tajarin -- handcut tagiliatelle with five hour pork sugo and porcini mushrooms $12 for me (I particularly enjoyed the crinkly pasta which was fresh but had a good bite) and mum with the winner: coujette – Occitaine potato gnocchi with fonduta di formaggio alpine and toasted hazelnuts ($11); these little pillows fairly floated off the plate
The SO went for a full main of the Liberty Farm duck breast and slow roasted leg with Brussels sprouts and apples in padella and passato di sauncrau ($24) and although he enjoyed it, we all felt it was the least successful dish – nothing specific just not a rave. That’s the second duck dish the SO hasn’t loved in SF – the other was Commis, may be time to duck the duck :- ). I enjoyed a gin based cocktail which was recommended by our excellent server – didn’t note the details but it had some fresh leafy herb in it that I loved. Everyone else had a tasty red wine that I was equally inattentive in noting anything about (Abbruzzo, maybe?). And we finished up with a dish of fennel dusted bombolini with star anise scented chocolate sauce and orange marmelatta to share ($8). The pacing was spot on and as mentioned our server was a gem. A superb start. We took the California car to the top of Nob Hill and then headed home.
We were off by 9:15 to check out Golden Gate Bridge on the 38L and the 28 buses. The Fage (I heart Fage with honey!) had started to wear off so we climbed back onto the 28 and headed to Mandalay for a Burmese lunch (we had hoped to make it to Burmese Kitchen but this was a good substitute).
There were many things we “had” to try, including samusa soup (big hit, especially with mum), deep fried onions (dad and I were major fans), tea leaf salad (the SO’s favourite and vying with Dennis’ at Larkin Express Deli), banana blossom salad (a special, very refreshing) and a fried flat bread called balada that was right up my street. We also tried the cold Burmese tea (excellent) and the jasmine blossom tea served in a wine glass, as well as the house specialty ginger lemon drink, which dad found a bit too intense. The SO had a Burmese beer. A great feast for a reasonable price, with lovely service though a bit distracted as the place got slammed even though it was late for lunching.
We had to work off all this food so caught the 44 into Golden Gate Park to see the free view from the De Young Conservatory tower and the sculpture garden, followed by a leisurely walking tour of the Strybing Arboretum. Then it was back to the hotel till it was time for a quick change and a walk over to Canteen.
Some of you may know that I have serious love for Canteen. We have booked a table here on all but one of our trips, when we waited too long and couldn’t get in. We were excited to show off our favourite SF resto to the Parentals and Canteen didn’t disappoint. In fact, this was the best meal we’ve had yet, in part because with four people we could order more things to try :- ). Full marks to the staff, though, as Chef Leary was not in attendance that evening and they met or exceeded his standards IMO. We were served a lovely amuse of smoked salmon with parsnip to start. I had talked up the famous vanilla soufflé (the only thing they’ve had on the menu since opening, I believe) so much that dad decided he was only ordering a starter so that he could have a whole soufflé to himself – in addition to being an offal-head he is also a renowned duff hound. He chose the pheasant salad with chicken liver toast, verjus gelee and dried fig ($11.50) which was superb.
Mum and the SO went for the peas and carrot soup ($8.50) which was a bowl of spring and beautifully plated. I had the Savoy spinach, butter lettuce and goat cheese salad ($8.50) because the server recommended it for the dressing which was outstanding though I prefer my salad dressed a bit more lightly. Mum also liked the look of the sole and crab quenelles with curry and cauliflower puree ($12.95; Chef Leary knows his purees) and opted to have that for her main to great effect. The quenelles were a bit larger than I’m used to but were light and luscious I’m told (no crab for me). The SO went veg for his main with the mushroom and Swiss chard en papillote with paprika sauce ($19.50) and this may have been the standout dish of many stellar plates. Then again, my pork shoulder confit with aligote style spuds and asparagus was a contender ($25.50). This was a meal where picking a favourite dish was a delightful conundrum.
Although we were all pretty stuffed by this time, we knew the soufflés were on their way (the aforementioned 1 for dad and 1 to share for the rest of us, plus the lemon croquettes with roasted rhubarb and cardamom). Then our server came by with a plate of the strawberry shortcake, saying it didn’t seem right for us to only have three desserts for four people – our dessert cup runneth over. The shortcake was the surprise of the night as it was (nearly) as good as mum’s, and that is saying something. I had a glass of white and the others shared a bottle of Morgan 12 Clones Pinot Noir. The bill came to a measly $180 before tip. We were so well taken care of by the Canteen crew – this was mum and dad’s favourite meal of the trip (and also my belated birthday dinner). We waddled back up to Chinatown for a stroll and so to bed.
Having warned Mum and Dad about the lines at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, we were up and at ’em by 8:30. The lines were manageable at the side Blue Bottle and at Primavera, and we even managed to nab one of the real tables to sit at. The chilaquile platter ($9) was as good as the last two times and the 2 tamales (pork and spinach/mushroom) also got smiles at $4.50 each. We were all pretty enamoured of the salsa verde too. We supplemented with the 4505 “toad in the hole” (I’d call it egg in the hole) which was made from Omega pan de mie with béchamel and cheese ($6), also very good. We toured the market and then headed to Fisherman’s Wharf to check out the boats at Hyde Street Pier. We went to Tanguito to try the empanadas but alas they were sold out by the time we arrived at 1:30 pm. We tried the lengua, chorizo and pastor tacos at the adjacent truck which were messy but tasty and very reasonable. Mum wanted to see what Ghirardhelli Square looked liked several decades on. We had a sample of the chocolate peanut square which was generous but just average. Then we were off to North Beach on the Stockton bus to try a pizza piato at Bao Necci. Their recent remodel means an airier atmo and more tables (plus beer!) but the pizza hasn’t changed and was as good as last time. We wandered over to Washington Square which was packed on a sunny afternoon with visitors and locals alike, including some byplay that reminded me of some of the parks on our downtown eastside : -). Another trip on the now uber-crowded 30 bus (sorry M&D) and we returned to the oasis of the daily wine tasting at our hotel.
Dinner on Saturday was with BIL at Poc Chuc 2866 16th Street btwn South Van Ness and Shtowell (415) 558-1833 . Remembering how much I loved their corn-based offerings, Mum and I focused on these items (hello, Platillo Maya!), whereas others tried the eponymous dishes and tacos. Still no licence here but we enjoyed agua de Jamaica and didn’t miss the alcohol. Service was warm, the food was plentiful, delicious and inexpensive, and there seemed to be more patrons than last time, so all in all a great dining experience.
Part II (Sun to Wed) is here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/703182#
Here are some pix from Perbacco (salumi, beet salad, fritto misto, octopus/veal tongue, tajarin, ravioli, gnocchi, duck, bombolini) and Mandalay (balada, banana blossom salad, fried onions, lemon ginger drink, samusa soup, tea leaf salad, two teas):
230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111
817 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109
4344 California St, San Francisco, CA 94118
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
One Ferry Building, 200 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA
2886 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103
516 Green St, San Francisco, CA
2850 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94133
Thanks, Cyn! I usually carry a tiny notepad for quick jots, and I shamelessly palm paper menus (or ask if it's too conspicuous) but sometimes it's about enjoying a meal with family and friends, in which case the details have to rely on my tiny brain afterwards. It was particularly hard this time as my computer went on the fritz just before we left and I had to try and remember for longer than usual :-).
Ah the souffles at Canteen. They always do very good jobs with whatever style souffles they offer. I was there last week for their prix fixe dinner and for the first course they did a "Sole and Crab Souffle" with crispy artichokes and dill. I prefer savory ones over sweet so I enjoyed it more than the famous vanilla.
The vanilla souffle went over gangbusters! But now I have a new holy grail -- a savoury souffle at Canteen. I'm not sure whether to thank you for sharing or not, benv! There are few things better in life than a well-executed savoury souffle. If I am lucky enough to hit Canteen on an evening when they have one, I must also pray that it doesn't have crab (which I can't eat) or I may actually cry :-).