The Final Seven Weeks For A (Now) Ex-Pat Bay Area Native
Pardon the length of this, but I simply wasn't able to post this in bits and pieces with other concerns to take care of during this time.
It has been exactly one month since I last stepped foot in the Bay Area. That day, I went on the road with my partner to a place over 2000 miles away to start a new chapter in my life in the Midwest region of the U.S. That was the result from the news in early November that I received a job that would allow me to get me to the same side of the world as her after nearly two-years of long-distance dating.
Over time, I got to appreciate the chowy-laden goodness that was present in the Bay Area, and one thing I truly appreciate about my new partner is her similar mindset. But that wasn’t always the case, when often times, the notion of sheer quantity took precedence over true quality, and there wasn’t much willingness to expand beyond the tried and true. Thankfully, that changed for both of us, mainly spurred by a need to get our diets under control for health reasons. While our appetites (and waistlines) may have shrunk, our desire for foods you can savor has reciprocally grown.
However, we are still “Chowhounds-in-training”, if you will. When I finally was offered a job that would allow me to be with my partner, I had posted a thread asking what chowy goodness I needed to seek out here in the Bay Area before I left. But after some thought, I decided I really didn’t need to look at those responses, because I figured:
- I already had a general idea of what I wanted and needed to get to one last time
- Economics were going to play a role (moving is damn expensive)
- It wasn’t going to be perfect, because I was going to wing a lot of this anyway.
And thus, amidst all the chaos that comes with moving, the holidays, and tying up loose ends, I set out on this last quest of sorts. With 49 being a meaningful number around San Francisco, I figured that would be a great number to shoot for in terms of number of attempts at chowy goodness. An unexpected two-week trip to Florida for job training threw a crimp in that, but perhaps with all the double dips I managed at various locations, I succeeded anyway.
And thus, the final seven weeks...
A thread (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/803758) asking which food trucks were really worth visiting again gave me a nice little focus point for a mini-quest:
1a & 1b. Black Bean Veggie Burger and Double Whammy (11/08/11 - Doc's of the Bay
)2. Liba Falafel sandwich (11/15/11 - Liba Falafel)
3a & 3b. Baked Red Seasame Chicken Bun and Steamed Pork Belly Taco (11/30/11 - Chairman Bao) baked red sesame chicken bun/steamed pork belly taco -
1a. is not really traditional (the patty is very soft and falls apart easily) but is very tasty in combo with the slaw and challah bun. 1b, a mix of regular fries and fried green beans, is a nice change from the usual fried potatoes choice.
I loved 2., especially the crispy/crumbly texture of the falafel and the multitude of options at their ingredient bar you have to customize your order. Just slight demerits for a flimsy pita, which lessens its portability a bit.
Chairman Bao’s 3a. reminded me a lot of my parent’s tasty siopao buns, which I intend to try to duplicate sometime myself in here, and turned out to be large enough to make up lunch. Meanwhile, 3b. had nicely buttery pork bits with lightly crispy exterior.
Maybe, Depending on my Mood
4. Spicy Korean Beef w/salad (11/14/11 - Hiyaaa!)
5. Señor Burrito (11/17/11 - Señor Sisig)
6. Pork Korrito with Kimchee (11/23/11 - Seoul On Wheels)
I did like you could order the items from Hiyaaa! in the form of a roll or rice as well. The beef from 4. had a decent-enough kick and I liked how it blended with the salad. Solid dish, but something I’d have to be in the mood for rather than an automatic seek-and-find..
After the first bite, I thought Señor Sisig had sent me to burrito heaven; everything was perfectly melded. But alas, the remainder was plagued by construction issues that is typical of burritos as a whole. Too much rice IMO, and the subtle garlicky tones of that rice were often overwhelmed by the spice of the sisig and/or salsa. Close call here, but it’s not a must-do on a return visit.
The ingredients in SoW’s 6. were distributed much better, but I was surprised it had very little kimchee in it (a concession to non-Korean customers?) I’d have to be in a burrito mood to consider this one again.
Specialty’s - A Mixed Affair
7. Almond Chocolate Breakfast Bread (11/16/11)
8. Peanut Butter & Stuff Sandwich (11/21/11)
9. Sticky Bun (11/22/11)
One problem with coming into SF as early as I did for work was there weren’t too many places open before 7 AM. Specialty’s was one of those places that was, however, and I’ve spent a fair amount of cash there during my time in SF.
However, most of their morning baked goods were just merely okay and/or inconsistent depending on location. I’ve had bleh to pretty-good versions of 7. and 9. in the past, and on this final go-around, these versions were pretty typical. 8) was one of my guilty-pleasures bunch options: overloaded with carbs (cranberry sauce, sliced apples and bananas) but something that kept my appetite sated until dinner.
Their one thing I would love to have access to here: their wheat germ chocolate chip cookie: I will miss that that cube-like, softish, fall-apart texture mixed with pebble-like chocolate chips, flax seed and wheat germ.
Breakfast, Breakfast, Breakfast
10. Cinnamon Currant Loaf (11/07/11 - Acme Bread, Ferry Bldg)
11. Apple Cake (11/11/11 - Crixa, Berkeley)
12a & 12b. Cinnamon Roll and English Muffin (11/13/11 - Model Bakery, Napa)
13. Almond Twist (11/20/11 - Pure Grain Bakery, Vacaville)
14a & 14b. Spinach & Eggs and Sweet Potato Mini-pies (12/03/11 - Petaluma Pie, Petaluma)
15. Blackberry Buttermilk Muffin (12/04/11 - Alexis Baking Company, Napa)
16a & 16b. (12/17/11) Cinnamon Morning Bun & Quiche (12/17/11 - Ponsford's Place, San Rafael)
17a & 17b. Apple Fritter/Cruller (12/19/11 - Bob's Donuts)
18. Berry Cherry Oatmeal (12/21/11 - Jamba Juice)
19. Alfredo Special Torta (12/22/11 - El Faro, 2nd St, SF)
20. Blueberry Muffin (12/23/11 - The Sentinel)
Acme’s 10. became a traditional breakfast choice at least once a week once I began using the ferry, and (probably mistakenly) felt it was “healthier” an indulgence than the sourdough cheese wheel or roll, which were the occasional savory change of pace.
Crixa would be a love/hate relationship type of place if it were more easily accessible: I’d love the goods but hate the extra pounds. 11. was moist and had a pleasant apple flavor on a morning where I wanted something not overbearingly sweet.
I once tried a pecan sticky bun from Model Bakery that was lacking in the pecans and the stickiness. 12a. from Model was similar in that it was lacking in the cinnamon. However, 12b made up for that: a fluffy, buttery lightness that’s definitely worthy of the accolades. It was great by itself as well as the base for a breakfast sandwich.
Pure Grain had my favorite poppyseed-based pastry (which I first enjoyed during a Oktoberfest celebration) in the Bay Area, but alas no poppyseed-based goodies were there when I visited. My replacement, 13. was okay but destined to suffer by comparison.
Petaluma Pie’s 14a. was a solid savory breakfast option Later on, 14b proved much more memorable, with a light texture, just-right sweetness, despite it being a day-old (and thus discounted - bonus!.)
I had a weird aversion to checking out Alexis Baking Company in Napa despite ample opportunity - maybe it was part those long weekend lines and part a gut feeling that this was a place that could coast on its laurels easily. One pastry purchase does not proof make, but 15. was overpriced and merely okay. I was actually jonesing for a cinnamon bun, which I had heard good things about, but what was for sale turned out to be a much bigger portion than I could eat.
The same thing I said for Crixa applies even more so to Ponsford’s Place. Since the savory turnover I had was still being prepped, I went with 16a. and was treated to a wonderful swirl of (Nicasio Valley foggy morning goat) cheese, bright veggie tones (including squash, green onions and tomatoes), and eggy goodness on my taste buds. 16b. was even better - simple but just as perfect as can be. Considering their baking philosophy and somewhat out of the way location, I really do hope this place sticks around.
I left very early from my house to venture deep into SF to get to Bob’s Donuts for a special “thank-you” donut donation for my co-workers, and I managed to catch them still preparing donuts and with nary a customer in sight. I’ve heard the accolades for 17a. in the past; indeed, it was sinfully good though not terribly apple-y. The cruller was also to my liking with that jagged crispy exterior and fluffy interior. FWIW, the two-dozen variety pack of donuts was wiped out by lunchtime.
Nothing much to say about 18. except that it (and Jamba’s oatmeal in general) was a reliable and pretty tasty go-to breakfast item for a chain store. Also, the $1 sales on Wednesdays were pretty nice for the budget.
El Faro was a place that was open before 7 am but hadn’t visited in a long while until this stopover and went with 19. (I guess the special being that it’s a torta rather than a burrito.) The service was bleh (even for this early in the morning) and the torta was at best passable. FWIW the nearby Sausalito Espresso has a more engaging morning person and better food.
The Sentinel’s coffee cake is a divine creation but rarely enjoyed due to its later opening time. Again, disappointment was to be found as there was no coffee cake available, but I’ve always found their muffins to be quite good. 20. was no exception - plentiful blueberries to be had and a not-too-dense/cakey texture (like those cheapo muffins).
21. Feta Fetish Sandwich (11/09/11 - American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, SOMA)
22. Autumn Salad (11/11/11 - Gaumenkitzel, Berkeley)
23. Lightly Fried Shredded Pork (11/18/11 - Henry’s Hunan (Natoma St, SF))
24. Lomo De Pollo with Aji Amarillo (11/20/11 - Incas Grill, Concord, CA)
25a. & 25b. Fried Catfish Po'Boy Sandwich (11/22/11); Chicken & Waffles (12/21/11) - Farmer Brown’s Little Skillet, SOMA
26a. & 26b. Nan Gyi Dok and Samusas (11/29/11 - Burma Cafe, Daly City)
27a. & 27b. Beef & Lamb Gyro and Kadayif Pistachio (12/02/11 - Gyro King, SOMA, SF)
28. Persian Burger & Fries (12/18/11 - Afghan Tandoor, Fairfield)
29a. Mahi-mahi fat taco and 29b. yucca fries & pineapple salsa (12/19/11 - Fat Taco, Howard St, SF)
30. Shaking Beef Curry (12/22/11 - Bamboo Asia, Montgomery St, SF)
31. Jerusalem Falafel (12/23/11 - Jersualem Kitchen, Albany)
32. Pastor and Chorizo Tacos (12/24/11 - El Ojo de Aguas Truck, Oakland, CA)
33a. & 33b. Falafel Plate and Palmyra Kebab (12/25/11 - Palmyra, SF)
I was somewhat surprised that 21. from AGCK was actually as cheesy as it was. The fontina was the overwhelming component as contrasted to its sandwich mates (feta, eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers). That’s not necessarily bad mind you, and compared to what you could get at The Melt for the same price, I’ll take this sandwich everytime.
22. from Gaumenkitzel was a perfectly tasty, lighter lunch, with the varied tastes and textures (smoked trout, arugula, goat cheese, etc.) dancing on my tastebuds. A pretty nice way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon
Henry’s on Natoma was an institution for me while working in SF, worthy of a visit every couple weeks. Except when it wasn’t anymore, and for no good reason either. At one time, I had thought I would be like the person behind this website and go through all the items at least once. I didn’t come close to that, but this last visit for 23. reminded me of the spicy goodness I was missing. I also forgot about the economic benefits: in recent years, a lunchtime portion was good for two meals for me.
24. was the eventual choice between two potentially-chowy places I had absolutely no idea about, except one was Peruvian and the other was Persian (Didar; both places on Clayton Road in Concord.) If I had read Yelp, I would’ve had a hint of the slow service. The chicken was a little bit overcooked, but the dish was hearty and the aji amarillo provided a nice spicy kick (which arrived almost predictably late.) The dish itself, while filling, seemed overpriced at $14.
Little Skillet is a bit of a walk from my workplace, but as I realized the walk was a good thing after indulging in their delicious and filling items. I’ve never been a big fish person, but I’d go back for 25a. for certain. That perfectly fried-up cornmeal-coated fillet bracketed by pickled onion, lettuce, tomato & remoulade made me slow down to savor the flavors. 25b. was designated in 7x7’s “100 Things To Eat In SF Before You Die” article; for me, the combo proved to be less than the sum of their parts. The chicken was fried up beautifully, crackly on the outside and juicy inside. The waffles were super-tasty, but the combo itself didn’t do it for me. Chalk it to individual preference - I’d order their C&W again, but would simply enjoy each item apart from each other.
Burma Cafe’s interior space is a lot nicer than its strip mall location would indicate. An earlier report stated this would be a good place to intro someone to Burmerse, with its fellow Daly City denizen Little Yangon a place to branch out. This is not to say the food isn’t tasty though: 26a. reminded me a lot of the pancit palabok from my Filipino upbringing, with a Burmese twist (in this case rice noodles with mild curry, chicken, eggs, split yellow pea powder and fried onion.) 26b. were fried up just right, with a lightly crunch exterior and with just a touch of heat to them (plus peanut and spicy dipping sauces.)
I was always about trying out new places in SOMA near work all the way to the end. I tried the SOMA edition of Gyro King about a couple weeks after opening, and they still seemed to be going through growing pains. The meat in 27a was on the dry side, bringing this to down to below average; I couldn’t give a proper opinion on 27b, as I forgot about it until it got beyond its peak. If I was still working in SOMA, it probably would’ve been awhile before I stopped back in again.
Afghan Tandoor is a mom-and-pop place next to the Chipotle in Fairfield. Based on my prior visits, I wish I could say the masses next door were missing out on some divine tastiness here, but it is decent enough that people shouldn’t just blindly frequent its more well-known neighbor. 28. isn’t one to convince those masses, though - despite the Persian reference, it was your basic burger save for the halal meat, which gave the patty a somewhat chewier texture than typical. On the bonus side, they do fry up their french fries quite well.
I was surprised to see Fat Taco still kicking around, given its odd location in the back of a nightclub. But I passed by its sandwich board coming back from a doctor’s appt, so I decided to give it a shot. 29a was nothing to shout about, but 29b was a nice surprise that would warrant a return visit from me. Big rectangular yucca wedges with crunchy, pleasantly salty exteriors and fluffy, airy interiors were great in and of themselves, but when dipped in the pineapple salsa, it was heavenly. The salsa itself is not typical (think sweet-and-sour sauce consistency) but its sweet start is soon replaced by a savory heat which pleasantly lingers but never overpowers.
I was a little sad when the cafeteria-like International Food Center on 3rd St closed down (eventually replaced with a California Pizza Kitchen). If you wanted quick, relatively decent swath of (mostly) Asian cuisines, this was where you could get it Bamboo Asia”s website hinted at a similar concept under one roof, so I gave it a shot. A vaguely cafeteria-style setup greeted me here but was confusing in that it seemed only the Japanese section was open (the other two were ostensibly Indian and Vietnamese.) The salad/sandwich-wrap/bowl options were similar to that of the Hiyaaa! food truck. I decided on 30. from the Vietnamese section, and though I am hardly an expert, the resulting dish I don’t think resembled anything close to traditional Vietnamese. If I had enjoyed it, maybe that wouldn’t be so much an issue; I did finish it, but alas it wasn’t anything memorable.
Some days you just feel like having something, and while wandering down target-rich Solano Avenue, I started craving a falafel for no good reason. That brought me Jerusalem Kitchen where I partook in 31. The Jerusalem Salad which filled this substantial wrap was crunchy and lightly tangy, but somewhat overwhelmed whatever flavor the mushy (not my fave texture) slabs of falafel had.
El Ojo was our stop after my partner’s flight arrived; she was there to celebrate Christmas with my family. We may have tried the delicious-sounding tortas if we weren’t due to chow down big time Filipino-style later that day; we opted for 32. instead. We we agreed they were both spicy good; they reminded me of versions available in the better taco trucks near my home in Vallejo.
We tried to squeeze into Chinatown on Christmas while in the city, but crowds were bustling even at 2 PM. We had in earlier travels that that Palmyra was open; I had never visited prior but was interested in trying since I had traveled to Syria for a few weeks, and thus we backtracked to the Haight. 33a, my partner’s choice, had falafels that were vaguely reminiscent of those I had in Damascus; the hummus was on the creamy side, which is what I found in my brief stay overseas. When my dish arrived (33b), I realized quickly wasn’t reminiscent of anything I had anywhere in Syria, resembling more of a stew (ground beef skewers baked with tomatoes, loma sauce, and mushrooms). I liked it well enough, but got some buyer’s remorse when I realized I should’ve ordered the kibbeh instead, simply for comparison purposes.
34. Pad Ga Pao (12/01/11 - Cha-Am, 3rd & Folsom, SF)
35. String Beans w/Beef; Hong Kong Pan Fried Noodles; Lemon Chicken; Chinese Broccoli w/Garlic; Fried Rice (12/20/11 - Canton Dim Sum, Folsom St, SF)
36. Vietnamese Shrimp Spring Rolls (12/22/11 - Elephant Bar, Concord)
Both Cha-Am and Canton ended up being common destination places for my workplace for big luncheons, mainly due to proximity, relatively low prices, and food that would had overall appeal for most of my co-workers. I liked 34. well enough, a veggie dish with long beans, zucchini, bell pepper in a spicy garlic sauce. In terms of Canton, the groups of co-workers I dined with avoided the dim sum in favor of the family-style plates. Over the years, items like and along the lines of those listed in 35. became something like comfort dishes, enjoyed with your favorite people as you exchanged old memories, current memories and future endeavors.
Elephant Bar was the proverbial “meet in the middle/not too much thought behind it” choice during a crowded holiday schedule. I will say 36. was actually halfway decent considering the source.
37. Various Appetizers (French Fries w/aioli; Marinated Chickpeas, Kufteh Tabrizi and Arancini) and a Cucumber Cocktail (11/10/11 - Zare at Fly Trap, Folsom St, SF)
38. Coconut & Pineapple Tart w/stuff (11/14/11 - Yoppi, Pine St, SF)
39. Rye Raisin Rabbit (with Trader Joe’s Almond Butter) (11/24/11 - Acme Bread)
40. Dave’s Killer Blues Bread (11/29/11 - Safeway, Mill Valley)
41. Miscellaneous alcohol-laden products, Bottle Barn (12/03/11 - Santa Rosa)
42. Pumpernickel Bread (12/17/11 - Ponsford's Place, San Rafael)
43. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale & Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat Beers (12/23/11 - Rickhouse, SF)
44. Miscellaneous Groceries (12/24/11 - Berkeley Bowl West)
45. Carrot Walnut, Chocolate Chiapas, Caramel Cashew, and Cranberry Sunrise Sorbets (12/24/11 - Scream Sorbet, Oakland)
46. Everything Bagel w/Lox; Pumpernickel Corn Rye Bagel w/Southwest Omelet (12/25/11 - House of Bagels, Alameda, CA)
47. Jalapeno & Cheese bagel w/veggie cream cheese; Bran-Whole Wheat Bagel w/Walnut-Raisin Cream Cheese (12/26/11 - Sunrise Bagels, Concord, CA)
48. Various coffee concoctions (almost every working weekday, Peet’s (2nd & Mission, SOMA)
37. was shared with others at a work-related happy hour, with the fries and chickpeas being favorites of mine. I asked for a non-alcoholic cocktail due to some blood work I had the next day - the cucumber-laced carbonated something-or-another didn’t taste too promising at the start, but actually got better over time.
For awhile, I thought fro-yo shops would become as ubiquitous as Starbucks in downtown SF. That’s maybe an overstatement, but there do seem to be way more shops than the demand would support. Out of the self-serve establishments, I found Yoppi to be my fave, with my usual being the original tart mixed with lots of chopped fruit and nuts, a dab of coconut flakes, and a smattering of “decadent” items like carob chips or Reeses Mini-Pieces.
Acme’s 39., which alternated with their whole wheat raisin roll during the working week, was a staple for me, especially when its dense chewiness was combined with a dollop of peanut or almond butter. In this case it proved to be a tasty, portable ward against crappy airport food on a red-eye flight back to the Midwest for Thanksgiving.
I’m just hoping similar bready goodness like 40. and 42. are readily available in Ohio. 40.’s had a beautiful chewy texture and sweet flavor, which contrasted with the dense somewhat crumbly nuttiness of that truly substantial loaf from Ponsford. Both breads proved to be worthy company for various sweet and savory partners throughout my final weeks in the Bay Area.
I was urged to transport 41. here; specifically, products not available where I now reside in the Midwest, especially those related to Russian River Brewing. Thus, two bottles of Pliny The Elder and singlets of Damnation, Damnation 23, Supplication, along with some Deschutes Brewery goodies and some hard-ciders (the Red Branch Dark Cherry Cider was a standout here) for those who weren’t beer lovers. All these were enjoyed during a fine New Years Eve celebration/tasting with my partner’s friends & relatives along with some home- & local-fave-brews..
Another after-work get-together found myself for the first time in Rickhouse; I found the space to be rather spacious, laid-out nicely, and not as loud as some other bars. The couplet of 43. was fine, with the Lost Coast Tangerine beer a notch above the usual.
I have never stepped foot in the original Berkeley Bowl, mainly because when I happened by it, it looked like way too much hassle to find a parking spot. The new West location proved to be the catalyst for a visit, and I got in a couple before this final one. 44. included fruits (Crimson Lady, Autumn Glory & Arkansas Black apples; Cara Cara oranges); rosemary asiago cheese and crackers; Natural Brew Ginger Ale and a 2009 Preston Zinfandel, which I hoped would come close to the Adobe Road Winery Zin that my partner’s parents had enjoyed during a visit to Sonoma a couple years back.
We had meant to have only a light meal at El Ojo de Aguas because of the Christmas Eve dinner, but we just couldn’t help ourselves and took a detour to Scream. Out of the foursome in 45. Carrot Walnut & Cashew Caramel were as outstanding as other nut-based flavors we’ve had there prior.. I’m not normally a chocolate frozen treat person, but the Chocolate Chiapas may make me change my mind on that.
Not much to really say about 46. and 47. (I guess no memorable bagels truly exist in the Bay Area) except to say 46. was actually open on Christmas morning, and 47. was really a matter of convenience (we had a long way to go to get to Kingman, AZ by the end of the day.)
48. is what brought me to Peet’s on 2nd and Mission. Though there may be more highly-thought-of-places around, this place became a regular haunt as they always treated me well, comping me free drinks or adding an extra shot of espresso to my coffee. I hope to find something similar here in the Midwest.
I know I will miss the swatch of choices that the Bay Area had to offer, but I look forward to exploring my new haunts with equal gusto (I’ve already located a Filipino market and some promising coffee haunts.) And my future visits back to visit family in the area I know will make my mouth water, as I get another chance to discover and re-discover chowiness in a place I had called home for such a long time.
Goodbye, San Francisco Bay Area! I will be back for certain.
I'm going to miss you, man.
Great post in so many ways ... truly the type of post that attracted me to Chowhound. Some great tips in there I'll have to try.
Model will mail order those muffins.
Our loss is the midwest's gain. Hope you keep posting your finds there.
My wish for much happiness to you in your new life.