MINI-REPORT – Brazen Head, Vung Tau, Bona, Pizzeria Delfina, Bi-Rite Creamery, Raman’s Coffee & Chai
My friend who visited me in September for an Oregon/Northern California excursion flew in this week for a little more local touring around the immediate area near here. Some of it would spent outside the SF Bay Area region proper but we did manage to get a good sampling of restaurants from inside the nine-county area.
With flights delayed because of the rain, my friend got in more than 2-hours late on Saturday and it was closer to midnight by the time we got to SF. After a couple of false starts trying to find parking for Grubstake, we lost patience and decided to head up to the Marina and check out Brazen Head.
This is a cozy place if there ever was one, with an easy-to-miss entrance and throwback décor; the regular menu was a bit heavy for our purposes, but the appetizers were the perfect bridge. The meatballs were solidly tasty stomach fillers, but the real hit was the mac & cheese, which had the right level of cheesiness and had a slight crunch that made for a winning texture for both of us. We finished off by a dessert on the specials – a bread pudding that wasn’t overly sweet or goopy and was complemented nicely by the scoop of vanilla ice cream.
We woke up late the following day and thus much of our planned itinerary was scrapped, and our meal plans we decided to play by ear. However, after we got in our lone destination that day (The Tech Museum) we decided that Vietnamese would be our choice, but something a little more upscale.
Luckily, we stumbled on Vung Tau close by and found it to be a solid choice. Being relatively inexperienced with Vietnamese, we kind of went with what sounded good – my friend loved her Bun Bo Cha Gio; my Banh Dap Tom wasn’t quite what I expected based on the menu description, but in the end it was all good, with all those fresh vegetables stacked on a plate for us to dig into.
My friend liked her jasmine tea; I especially enjoyed my Vietnamese coffee – though I haven’t had that many in my lifetime, this was one of the better versions I’ve tasted and helped get me through the remaining drive to our lodging near Pescadero.
After one day touring climes southward (Monterey/Santa Cruz area) we headed back to San Francisco. In Half Moon Bay, we decided to try out Raman’s Coffee and Chai just for a quick morning jolt of caffeine. My friend again went the tea route and got the signature chai – very nicely fragrant and she thought it not too sweet and quite delicious, finishing it off fairly quickly. I opted for an iced Mexican coffee just to break away from my normal latte habit and found this to be another winning drink.
Before we hit our first of our destinations for that day, we stopped by what we were both looking forward to most – Bona in Menlo Park. My friend is of Polish descent, and her mouth was watering when I sent her the weblink – she was eager to try out the golabki (cabbage rolls), which was a childhood favorite of hers.
We got there a little before the posted opening time but they seated us no problem, and started off with the very delicious zurek (sourdough soup.) In her family, my friend had always had her golabki with tomato sauce, so she was intrigued by the mushroom-based sauce and ordered that instead. She thought it was quite good, but she’d lean to the tomato sauce next time we might visit.
One of the few Polish dishes I’ve had is perogi, and I’ve never had a from-scratch before so I ordered that (the potato & cheese version) – my friend confirmed it was very good version of the dish. The service was fine and on pace - our waiter was very personable and traded stories with my friend over their Polish experiences - until it was time to get the check, which never came until we prompted the staff to do so. Minor quibble, because this is a place we’d both come back to again.
We signed up for a “touristy” thing to do in Fisherman’s Wharf in the late evening, so we hit up the Mission for something that my friend had been craving a bit – pizza. Thus, we ended up at Pizzeria Delfina for a very early dinner. Our salsiccia sausage fennel pizza was excellent, with that nicely crackly and just barely charred crust that is typical of their pizzas. The marinated Brussels sprouts we had prior to the pizza were also quite tasty; being recently introduced to this vegetable, my friend and I mused how we’d obviously missed the not-so-tasty preparations that cause many people to name these sprouts as their least favorite vegetable.
Interestingly enough, the wait staff also had to be prompted to grab our check, somewhat mystifying because by this place’s standards, it wasn’t that terribly busy. Perhaps it was just destined to be one of those days for us.
Since we had visited Humphry Slocombe for our very first times each on her prior visit, it only seemed right to walk down the block and check out Bi-Rite for comparison sake after dinner. I got one of my favorites (salted caramel – just as good as I remembered) and the Ricanelas (cinnamon with snickerdoodles – good, but not something I’d order again). Being a ginger nut, my friend really dug her Brown Sugar with Ginger Caramel Swirl, and thought the Malted Vanilla with Peanut Brittle and Milk Chocolate Pieces was decent as well.
Next time she might come out here, we’ll probably throw in another contender (Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous or Scream Sorbet) next time around though just to muddy up these sweet and tasty comparison waters even more.
3692 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Vung Tau Restaurant
535 E Santa Clara St, San Jose, CA 95112
3166 Buchanan St, San Francisco, CA 94123
2406 California St, San Francisco, CA 94115
Ramans Coffee & Chai
101 Main St, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019