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Jan 12, 2012 04:19 PM

SF/East Bay restaurant and food trek report, and thanks

First off, a very big thanks to all of the SF ‘hounds whose generous advice paved the way for me to have an absolutely fantastic time eating my way through the Bay Area. Also, thanks to the ‘hounds who joined me on my two food treks: fruti, Kayde, bertabetti, Paula, and Jessica. Here’s my report:

Wednesday dinner – Lers Ros. Had the Garlic Quail, Som Tum with Prawns, and Pad Ped Alligator. Quail and Som Tum were great, but the Pad Ped was unbelievably spicy, and I could only eat it after requesting some coconut milk to spoon over it. And they called it “medium spicy.” Um, ok.

Thursday breakfast – Boot and Shoe Café. A big thanks to the Tasting Table email that alerted me to this place. Had the Brussels sprout and potato frittata, the homemade granola with yogurt and fruit, and the cinnamon streusel coffee cake. All three were fantastic. This place had such a good vibe, and such friendly staff that we decided to return later in the trip. Thursday lunch – Mission Chinese Food. Total hole in the wall with killer food. Had the curried buckwheat noodles, the tea-smoked eel, the pork belly, and the rice porridge with oxtail and crab, and we liked them from best to least in that order, though all of them were very, very good.

Thursday dinner – A Cote. This was our hands down favorite for the entire trip. The chanterelle flatbread with pancetta, leeks and pecorino fresco was one of the best things that I have ever eaten. Relatively simple, but so perfectly balanced and incredibly savory. I will remember that dish for a very long time. We also had the wild boar and chestnut sausage with farro, escarole and cranberry mostarda, which was excellent, and a whole better than the sum of its parts. Our last dish was the scallops with beet risotto, which was very good but a bit too buttery. For dessert, we had carrot cake with cream cheese mousse, candied cranberries, ginger creme anglaise and candied walnuts, and the coconut cream pie with coconut milk custard and toasted coconut cream. Both were very good, but not great. A very honorable mention goes to the Parlor Trick, a splendid drink of old-fashioned gin, muddled Satsuma, maraschino liqueur, and lime.

Friday – East Bay food trek:
1. Starter Bakery’s kouign amann. Very good.
2. La Bedaine’s pear tart. Excellent – one of the best pear tarts I’ve ever had.
3. OctoberFeast Bakery’s reaper bun and pretzel croissant. The reaper bun was an amazing version of a kouign amann, and was better than Starter Bakery’s. I wish that La Bedaine had made their version that day for a comparison. The pretzel croissant tasted more like challah than croissant, but it was pretty good.
4. PIQ Berkeley’s apple strudel. Good, but nothing special.
5. Gregoire’s potato puffs and poutine. The puffs were very good, but the mustardy aioli was not a good accompaniment. The poutine was a complete letdown. It was watery French fries and cottage cheese. Seriously.
6. Crixa Cakes’ onion bun and Fatima’s thighs. The onion bun was stellar, and the F.t. was very good.
7. Sacred Wheel Cheese’s seared mac ‘n cheese. Very good, and served with yummy pepper jelly.
8. Cosecha’s wild shrimp taco, pork belly taco, posole, and horchata. All four were excellent, and the vibe was great in the midst of a buzzing farmer’s market crowd.
9. Shan Dong’s sesame paste hand-pulled noodles and leek pancakes. Both of these were phenomenal, which was a welcome surprise given the crappy décor.
10. Ici’s persimmon-brandied currant, brown sugar ginger snap, and crème fraiche with cherries. All three were good to very good, though the persimmon was my favorite.

Friday dinner – Ippuku. What a great place – thanks to the ‘hounds online who suggested it. Had the chicken tartare, baked persimmon, chicken hearts, congee, pork belly, Brussels sprouts, omakase yakitori, and Dungeness crab balls. All were excellent.

Friday dessert – Scream Sorbet. Before Scream, we went to Gelateria Naia. What a total disappointment. The flavors were all muted. It was the taste equivalent of watching TV through gauze. After a few weak tastes, we decided not to order anything and went to Scream. Awesome, awesome, awesome. We each tried about 5 of the flavors. My wife had the pistachio (great) and the chocolate hazelnut (excellent). I had the maple walnut and the almond-pink peppercorn. Both were fantastic.

Saturday – SF food trek:
1. La Santaneca’s corn pupusa with pork and rice pupusa with pork and cheese. These were both very good. Most of us preferred the rice pupusa.
2. El Huarache Loco’s (Alemany Farmer’s Market) lamb taco and huitlacoche huarache. Taco was very good, huarache was fantastic.
3. All Star Tamales’(Alemany Farmer’s Market) sweet corn tamale. Excellent. Buttery. Yum.
4. Sandbox Bakery’s spicy bacon croissant and yuzu marmalade sage brioche. Loved the croissant, and liked the brioche.
5. Amedei Porcellana (Chocolate Covered). Totally worth the $20 for this bar of chocolate. Experience was like this… at 30 seconds, it was “ok, not bad.” A minute in, “this is good.” 90 seconds in, “ok, this is really good.” Two minutes in, “wow, this is amazing.” The life of that chocolate bar flashed before my eyes while it melted on my tongue. It was a wonderful life.
6. Delise Jura (a soft-rind brie-like cheese), Cabrales blue cheese and Acme bread (24th Street Cheese Co). Seriously, how bad could it be? Answer: not bad at all. We waited about 30-45 minutes to eat it so the cheese could come up to temp, and it was worth the wait.
7. Humphry Slocombe’s brown sugar-fennel, secret breakfast, and blue bottle coffee. Completely awesome. We sampled other flavors that were also fantastic. Definitely the best ice cream of the trip, and it wasn’t even close. Seriously, beat everything else by a country mile, except maybe not far superior to Scream Sorbet though, in my mind, still superior.
8. Smitten Ice Cream’s crème fraiche with pear caramel, and coconut with almond brittle. Both were very good, though I preferred the crème fraiche. The coconut tasted more like coconut milk than coconut.
9. Boxing Room’s sweet potato & andouille hash and bourbon banana split. Both of these were mighty tasty. The hash was topped by a runny egg, and the split was plated over a pool of killer bourbon caramel. A great end to the trek.

Saturday dinner – Camino. Except for being seated too close to the door, and feeling every breath of cold air that came in each time someone opened it, we had a good time. Had the avocado toasts, mushroom/truffle/egg toasts, grilled Dungeness crab, seafood chowder, Tunisian orange cake with dates, mastika pudding, and apple crostata. Savory was better than sweet.

Sunday brunch – Boot and Shoe Café. For our encore here, we had the ceci and egg cazuela, and the sausage-hot pepper-panna pizza. The cazuela was good, though not equal to its hype. We loved the pizza, and couldn’t resist finishing up with another slice of the cinnamon streusel coffee cake.

Sunday snack – Scream Sorbet. Yep. We went here again. This time, I had the Szechuan pomegranate and the Cashew Chai. Wife had spicy chocolate pecan and pear rosé. All four were excellent.

Sunday dinner – Marica. Cool little place with very nice servers. We split the fried garlic calamari appetizer, and loved every bite. Entrees were the seafood stew and the pork chop. Both were cooked impeccably, and were very flavorful. They comped us a crème brulee just to be nice, but it was pretty disappointing.

All in all, a great trip. It’s too bad that none of the restaurants really knew how to make a great dessert, but at least Scream Sorbet and Humphry Slocombe were there to tickle my sweet tooth. Thanks again to all!

ps My parking karma totally kicked ass on both sides of the bay. My fellow trekkers were amazed, and frankly, so was I.

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    1. Hands down, this is my favorite report in a while. Thanks so much for the detailed impressions! (Which is not as contradictory a phrase as it first might appear...)

      1. What an epic food journey-- thanks for the follow-up!

        That's funny... I first had a Kouign Amann this summer, and I thought that it reminded me of OctoberFeast's reaper bun, which I believe I ate in late 2009. Am I correct in remembering it as being bigger than a Kouign Amann? All I know is that it was delicious, and it was so filling that it killed my appetite for the day. Yeah, the center part of the pretzel croissant isn't anywhere near as good as a French croissant--- I usually just eat the horns and the outer crust :-)

        Where did you get the Amedei Porcellana?

        2 Replies
        1. re: hyperbowler

          hyperbowler, when we were in OctoberFeast, I mentioned that I was comparing their reaper bun to the kouign amann we'd just eaten from Starter Bakery. The girl behind the counter said that Starter Bakery had stolen the idea from them, and that their kouign amann was a lesser version of the reaper bun. Yes, it is slightly bigger than a kouign amann.

          I found Amedei Porcellana at Chocolate Covered in Noe Valley (4069 24th St).

          1. re: vonmoishe

            That's very interesting--- they may very well have been the first to sell a variant of Kouign Amann in the Bay Area, but it sounds like one of those things where two people were caught in the Zeitgeist. Boule in LA has had them since 2005, David Lebovitz posted a recipe in 2005, and of course they've been around Brittany since the 1800s. Here's Starter Bakery's version of the story. It sounds like their addition was in marketing them as their showcase item, and sticking to the original weird name:


        2. Great report in general, and I'll second your account of the Friday trek - a very good time. You covered amazing ground while in the area. We were planning to hit A Cote and Marica for dinner soon, and now might move them up the list.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Kayde

            Thanks so much for the great report! Humphrey Slocombe and Scream are working in different frozen dessert genres, so no need to worry which is better when we have both to enjoy.


            1. re: mdg

              I agree with all the comments, thanks for reporting back! I've been looking forward to how your trip went. Now I have to go check out some of these places!

          2. Such a delicious experience! Thanks for the detailed report! Any chance that you or any of the other trekkers took pictures? I'd love to see some of them! I am located in SF so next time, I'd love to join!

            9 Replies
            1. re: marssy

              You resurrected the dead here. Scream died shortly after this.

              1. re: wally

                Oops I didn't mean to raise the zombie apocalypse here, sorry! I saw this thread because I saw that vonmoishe recently linked to his thread on his upcoming adventure in NYC: I hope I don't bring any disturbance to the force.

                1. re: marssy

                  It's OK - the report was so good, it deserved being resurrected! I think Scream is the only place no longer in existence.

                  1. re: foodeye

                    I am sorry if I offended anyone, I am just so tired of things I know I read before coming up as unread. ( I loved Scream)

                    1. re: foodeye

                      I think Octoberfeast is gone also, which is sad because I would have loved to have tried the reaper bun.

                2. re: marssy

                  Marssy, I live in CT, but am coming back to SF/East Bay for a visit in late June, and am considering leading another food trek (or two).

                  1. re: vonmoishe

                    Yay! Please count me in! I'd love to help out coordinating it and promoting it as well.