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Nov 26, 2011 12:41 PM

Any intrepid souls out there?

Greetings from the East. I’ll be heading out to the Bay Area to accompany my wife to one of her conferences. What does that mean for me? While she’s getting all bookish with her fellow conference goers, I’ll be seeking out one thing: Food. I love to try new food and new restaurants. Fancy or unrefined, junky or funky, makes no difference. My goal is to replicate some food tours I led in NYC while I’m out in your neck of the woods.

Here’s the scoop: I’ll be available and hungry on Friday, January 6, and Saturday, January 7. The targeted timeframe is 10am – 4pm each day. I’ve got a rental car. Three of you (or four if you’re tiny) can ride around with me all day, tasting as we go. Gas, tolls and parking are on me. All of us (me included) put the same amount of money into “the pot.” Each place we go, we get some chow and pay for it out of the pot. No more than 2 or 3 things max at each place. Remember, we’ve got hours to go – pacing is crucial. The goal is that each person gets to taste every item. Then, we pack up and move onto the next place. Think of it as guerilla gluttony.

Why do this? Without each other, there’s no way that we could taste so many different things in such a short timeframe without going broke or busting a gut. I used to do this in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens with 15-20 people at a shot, but I’m sure we can make it work as a small group. I’m thinking that we do SF on one day, and the East Bay on another – the order is unimportant. I’m putting together a list of places, occasionally with suggested items to get at each place. Here’s what I’ve got so far, which is currently heavy on the sweet side of things:

Boot and Shoe Service (pastries)

Boxing Room (bananas foster cake)

Chiles Pies & Ice Cream (apple cheddar chile pie)


Humphry Slocombe


Ike’s Place

Kitchen 388 (pop tarts)

Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous

Nieves Cinco de Mayo

“Off the Grid”

Scream Sorbet

Smitten Ice Cream

Starter Bakery (kouign amann)

Summer Kitchen Bakeshop

Taco Grill (taco)

The Candy Store

The Pastry Cupboard

Three Twins Ice Cream

Umami Burger

A little bit about me: Total hedonist. Used to be a pastry chef/baker. Worked in a Beard award winning restaurant. Doesn’t mean I’m awesome, just that I have good taste. :) Now I’m in academia, and enjoying all the paid time off. Love to talk about food almost as much as eating it. Went to a balsamic vinegar producer and parmigiano-reggiano factory on my honeymoon in Italy, and ate gelato every day, usually more than once. I can get along with just about anyone, especially if you’re open to new things, intelligent, and willing to converse. Music is my second religion, right behind food. Things I loved about the Bay Area when I visited almost three years ago: Tartine, Dottie’s True Blue Cafe, Slanted Door, Aziza, Delfina, Bi-Rite Creamery, Sea Salt, Bovine Bakery, Ubuntu, Redd, conceiving my son at the Drake. Underwhelmed by: Zuni Café, Chez Panisse (upstairs), Bottega, Spork.

Send me an email ( if you want to come along for the ride. Tell me if you want to do SF, East Bay, or both, and if you can do Friday and/or Saturday. Feel free to email me food suggestions, especially savory ones, or post them here – anything goes. Peace.

Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

Slanted Door
Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

Zuni Cafe
1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Sea Salt
2512 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

Delfina Restaurant
3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

The Candy Store
1507 Vallejo St, San Francisco, CA 94109

1058 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

Nieves Cinco de Mayo
3340 E 12th St, Oakland, CA 94601

Taco Grill
3340 E 12th St, Oakland, CA 94601

Scream Sorbet
5030 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA

6525 Washington Street Suite A9, Yountville, CA 94599

Boot and Shoe Service
3308 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA 94610

Smitten Ice Cream
Octavia Blvd Linden St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Starter Bakery
1552 Beach Street, Suite R, Oakland, CA 94608

Boxing Room
399 Grove St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Kitchen 388
388 Grand Avenue, Oakland, CA

Umami Burger
2184 Union St, San Francisco, CA 94123

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  1. If you haven't been to the Saturday morning Ferry Plaza Farmer's market yet, I would say get a later start in the East Bay and focus there on Saturday morning. You get a bunch of the best bakers, jam makers, food vendors, cheesemongers, etc, etc, etc, all in one place. Of those you mention Humphry Slocombe and Scream Sorbet sell at this market in addition to many, many others.

    There;s a couple of Berkeley farmers markets, but even the best of them, just don't compete. The one thing about Ferry Plaza is that usually the actual vendors work that market so there is a depth of knowledge not found at the other markets.

    In the East Bay have you been to Crixa, Cheeseboard or Berkeley Bowl?

    If you don't get a lot of response one thing you might consider is organizing a Chowdown for at least one meal. More info here

    Berkeley Bowl
    2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

    Scream Sorbet
    5030 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA

    1. Monks Kettle and The Broken Record, which was recently featured on Diners, Drive ins and Dives, belong on your short list, and if you're in the Mission anyway at Monk's Kettle pop over to Mission Chinese, people either love it or hate it, but it's certainly unique. You could actually do a pretty good food crawl just in the Mission, around 18th st, 16 st and 24th st, connecting via Valencia and Mission. You'd need a car to get to Broken Record, though

      The Monk's Kettle
      3141 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

      Broken Record
      1166 Geneva Ave, San Francisco, CA

      1. Off the Grid Ft Mason just ended for the season; not sure about the other days.

        If you're crawling for ice cream, be sure to include Delise Dessert Cafe on Bay by Powell, near the Wharf but also near North Beach.

        This is a much better crawl in the city without a car. Hop in a cab if necessary but otherwise walk and get a public transit pass. Or bicycles.

        Based on this list I'm not sure what your criteria is. Like NYC, the Bay Area has hundreds of great places to eat.

        We generally do a yearend Chowhound thread on best things we've eaten this year. You might want to leave some room for what comes up then. (The 2010 one is a good reference point.)

        DeLise dessert cafe
        327 Bay St, San Francisco, CA 94133

        14 Replies
        1. re: Windy

          Thanks for all of the replies so far. I'll see if I can address all of your points...

          I've already been to the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market more than once, so I was looking to avoid a repeat. However, I may reconsider because of the vendors you mentioned - easier to hit them both if they're in the same spot. Thanks for that.

          Yes, I've been to Crixa, the Cheeseboard and Berkeley Bowl. I didn't buy anything at Crixa, though. Do you have any suggestions for what to get there?

          What are the can't miss dishes at Monks Kettle, Broken Record and Mission Chinese?

          Any must-have flavors at Delise Dessert Cafe?

          Ideally, I'm looking for spots where we can hop in, grab our food, and go. The "Best things I've eaten" sounds like a good list to view, as it dovetails nicely with the concept of zeroing in on just the best one or two things each place has to offer.

          Last time I visited, my wife and I took public transit, and that ate up a TON of time. In order to get to all of the spots I'd like to see in such a short period of time (and I know I won't hit every place on my list), a car is a must. I'm not that worried about parking. A "slightly" illegal parking job for a few minutes will work in a pinch if there are no spots around. That's why I'm trying to steer clear of sitdown joints. I have faith in my parking karma - it has served me well. Lord knows I deserve it because my luck is worthless in every other aspect of my life!

          Berkeley Bowl
          2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

          Broken Record
          1166 Geneva Ave, San Francisco, CA

          1. re: vonmoishe

            Karma, Schmarma, San Francisco is the home of the anti parking fairy. 2 thoughts:
            "If you need to break the law, which violations are the cheapest? To our surprise, she told us that fire hydrants are on the low end of the scale, at $50.
            There is a wonderful civic policy, sometimes called the "tear-up" policy, that mandates that meter maids must shred the ticket if you arrive back at your vehicle while they are writing it. Unfortunately, San Francisco does not have such a policy"
            PS the computer method of ticketing beats writing every time.

            1. re: wolfe

              Oh, so that's it! I have a parking angel that finds me great parking places everywhere but in San Francisco. She even works in Mendocino and Palo Alto -- but not SF. I didn't know about the anti-parking fairy....
              My father considered the parking tickets to be his parking fees.
              And in San Francisco, the relevant signs often hide behind tree branches or other obstacles.

              1. re: Kim Cooper

                years ago, i successfully contested a ticket because the street cleaning sign was completely encased in tree branches. YMMV

            2. re: vonmoishe

              Parking in SF is challenging but not impossible. There are numerous parking garages downtown and in chinatown/north beach. I can always find parking in the mission and haight, its not that hard. You do need to pay attention to the signs for things like street cleaning. Inner richmond, especially around 5th ave. is pretty difficult. If you know your way around or have a local with you it can be done without too much difficulty.
              At broken record, all the sandwiches are tasty, but my favorites are the crispy prawn and pulled pork. Burgers are phenomenol and the crawfish grits are very good. The menu is on the board in the back at the kitchen/dining area and changes frequently. I like the chinese porridge at Mission chinese, some of their dishes can be a bit spicy. Think of it as southern inspired chinese food. Monks kettle is a really good beer pub with exceptional food. Again, not a huge menu but very tasty. Dont miss polenta with beef cheeks and the slow cooked chicken, which may be the best chicken ive ever had and i almost never order chicken in restaurants. You can find all of their menus online, i think.

              1. re: vonmoishe

                Monk's Kettle is one of my favorite places, but it doesn't sound like a good match for the OP. It isn't a grab and go place, typically has a wait, and is best suited to parties of 2 given the cramped size.

                The Monk's Kettle
                3141 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                1. re: vonmoishe

                  Re Delise, I think the Asian-fruit flavours are the standouts, but they had a lovely goat cheese and nut one as well when we visited earlier this month (Cdn west coast gastrotourist here). Have fun on your two days, your itin sounds right up my street!

                  1. re: vonmoishe

                    My wife has christened me with the moniker "Par-King" (def not related to my golf game), since we always seem to end up "down in the front row". However, have had a few rude awakenings in the Inner Richmond that turned my mojo upside down. However, if you have partners in crime, research what you want to try, make a list of the phone numbers, call ahead then circle the block when you arrive while one of your cohorts goes in and grabs the goods. So much good chow, so little time.

                    1. re: vonmoishe

                      At Crixa, you can't go wrong with their pies (deep dish style, available starting at 11am) or whatever Eastern European bun they're featuring that day (they tend to sell out early). I've also found their savory pastries consistently great -- love the potato pirog.

                      During my recent lunch at Mission Chinese Food, I thought the standout was the Kung-Pao Pastrami. Really unique and memorable. Lots of threads about the place on this board.

                      Would you be interested in hitting up Chinatown? Perfect for this kind of snack-and-go approach. I think Oakland's is better, foodwise, and is a lot less crazy in terms of parking (though still pretty bad on weekends), rampant tourists, etc. Places I'd hit: Ruby King for egg tarts, Wonder Food for the "lao gong bing" ( ) and pineapple buns, Sun Sing for baked pork buns, Cam Huong for banh mi, Shan Dong for pork and vegetable buns, and a taro boba shake from Sweet Booth.

                      Meanwhile, if you're hitting up SF Chinatown, Golden Gate Bakery's egg tarts are justifiably legendary. However, they take a lot of vacations, and I'd be willing to bet they'll be closed in early January.

                      Ice cream-wise, I despise both Ici and Humphrey Slocombe -- and if Bi-Rite's rich, creamy style is the kind of ice cream you prefer, I'd steer you away from both (though of course both places have legions of fans). My two can't-miss places are both in the East Bay: Lush Gelato (both the Oakland and Berkeley locations) and Scream Sorbet (already on your list).

                      Other quick thoughts: The pastries at Boot & Shoe are fine, but I don't see any reason to go out of your way for them. And while I'm a fan of Taco Grill, if you're just grabbing tacos to go, I'd rather hit up a couple of Fruitvale's many great taco trucks (lots of threads; my faves are the tripas tacos from the El Novillo truck and the aguas frescas from El Ojo de Agua). Alternatively (or in addition), go for the carnitas from Jalisco Cafe (only available on weekends).

                      1. re: abstractpoet

                        Thanks for all of the specific suggestions. I'm going to have to try Ici and Humphry, but hopefully I can try Lush as well.

                        Anyone else here up for joining us?

                        1. re: abstractpoet

                          At Taco Grill it's really all about the pozole. Go ahead and have a taco if you must, but do not miss the pozole. Options are red, white or green, and chicken, pork, or surtido. I favor the red pork.

                        2. re: vonmoishe

                          The VATROUCHKA at CRIXA is great! The POTATO PIROG is also really good, although the price per bite is pretty high, if I remember correctly.

                          I agree with the other poster who suggests MONKS KETTLE is not a good fit for what you are looking for. It's a place to get an (expensive) beef with some friends.

                          Were you the one who also had IKE'S SANDO on you list? I think the sandwich stakes have been raised ... while IKE'S is ok, I dont think it is especially special. So unless you speficially are looking for a been there/done that check off, I'd maybe do KITCHENETTE or PAL'S etc first ... there are a number of twitter feeds indicating the daily option.

                          1. re: vonmoishe

                            For me, Monk's Kettle is more for the beer than the food, but some people like it. I would get the pretzel for sure. Get the spicy Ma Po Tofu at Mission Chinese.

                          2. re: Windy

                            All of the Off the Grid events are year-round EXCEPT Fort Mason. There will be a Christmas break, though, and I'm not certain whether resumption will be in the first or second week of January.

                            I'd suggest a visit to Proxy. There the OPs can see a unique bit of urban planning, the hosting of retail spaces created from shipping container, and in the process catch up with Smitten Ice Cream, both Ritual and Blue Bottle Coffee outlets, and one or two food trucks (curated by Off the Grid).

                            Regarding the parking comments, recall that the OP is from NYC and probably knows a thing or two about guerilla parking.


                            Smitten Ice Cream
                            Octavia Blvd Linden St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                          3. Paying for parking is one thing, finding a place to do it at all those places is something else.

                            1. Add Baker and Banker bakery to your bakery list!

                              4 Replies
                                1. re: chuckl

                                  Arizmendi has several locations, so that could work on the east bay or SF trip. Or you may want to skip it if you're going to the Cheeseboard, their "sister" store.

                                  If you can get there before 8:30AM, the pecan croissants at Knead Patisserie are worth waking up early. They also have a wonderful custard filled tart thing, but it's a consolation prize if the croissants are sold out.

                                  Masse's Pastries in Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto has some of the best pastries in the East Bay. I can't recommend a signature item, but everything I've had there has been exceptional, and their French Macarons (e.g., yuzu & cassis) are on par or better than anything in SF.

                                  I guess you can find pretzel croissants in NY, but if you've never happened upon one, OctoberFeast Bakery in Berkeley makes a pretzel croissant (croissant w/ pretzel glaze) that's worth trying. I wouldn't recommend their pretzels.

                                  Masse's Pastries
                                  1469 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709

                                  OctoberFeast Bakery
                                  1954 University Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                                  Knead Patisserie
                                  3111 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                  1268 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                  1. re: hyperbowler

                                    I am addicted to the pretzel croissant at OctoberFeast...

                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                      hmmm... last time I went to Knead, I was blown away by the bruleed custard tart and the pecan croissants. I stopped in today when they opened (at 7:48AM), and found the custard runny and the croissant unmanageable. The latter pulled apart like an accordion, and the filling didn't have much flavor. It was impeccably flaky and light though, so I wonder if it was just too fresh out of the oven for my liking.

                                      Has anyone else noticed any inconsistencies?