Follow-Up: Two Weeks in S.F.
First, thanks to everyone who offered advice and suggestions in the previous thread... I don't think I've ever eaten so well (and so much!) in my entire life. San Francisco is truly a food lover's paradise and I don't think I've had a mediocre meal in the city yet. I'm still digesting the past two weeks. I'll give a quick rundown of the places we visited...
My flight into SFO on the 20th was delayed 4.5 hours due to air traffic and rainy weather, so we arrived hungry, tired and a bit jetlagged. After checking into our apartment, we cabbed straight over to Tadich Grill for martinis, oysters and cioppino. The oysters were fresh and meaty but not the most flavorful. The martinis (made with Hendricks gin) were absolutely perfect and the cioppino remains one of my favorite dishes in the entire city. It was the perfect compliment to a moody rainy night, and a great way to start to our vacation. We cabbed back to the apartment at McAllister and Steiner and crashed out early.
The next morning we woke up early and walked down to St. Francis Fountain in the Mission for breakfast... nothing like greasy plates and milkshakesat 10am! I had the corned beef hash with biscuits and country sausage gravy and my friends had the huevos rancheros and chef;s mess. We walked through the neighborhood a bit afterword and up to Nick's Coffee (meh!) and further along to Four Barrel which was outstanding. We walked all the way up to the Financial District and did some shopping and stopped into Tommy's and Lefty's for some afternoon pints. After a scenic trolley up Nob Hill and a Muni transfer back to our pad, we walked up to Bar Crudo for dinner. We were rushed because we were meeting friends at the Castro early this night, so we had to eat quickly. We ordered a selection of oysters and crudo samplers from the raw bar, followed by 2 seafood chowders and a lobster beet salad that was out of this world! There was another entree that I'm forgetting but it doesn't really matter because we unfortunately didn't have enough time to finish our meal and after the oysters, crudo samplers and salad, had the kitchen send all our incoming plates to the next table as we had to split to the Castro! We ended up making two young ladies pretty happy though! A shame because what we did sample of the crudos and salad was absolutely exceptional and I would have loved to have tasted more. Anyways, we had a really fun night that ended with late night burritos at Cancun in the Mission. So far I've been entirely unimpressed with the Mission taquerias and my friend fromt he East Bay swears that I have not tasted a proper taco/burrito until I've been up to San Diego. That's on the list for my bnext trip this spring!
The next morning we woke up early and walked all the way over to the Haight for brunch at Magnolia Pub and Brewery for one of the best breakfasts I've had in the city. My friend got the pulled pork something or other with grits and I had the dungeness crab cake beenedict which was extremely delicious, delicate, creamy and flaky. Thick and tender chunks of crab meat lightly fried or battered to a golden crisp exterior and doused in a rich and creamy bechemel sauce and resting beneath the most perfectly poached fluffy egg whites I've tasted, all atop homemade baked biscuits. Truly incredible! I had a homemade strawberry shortcake with basil reduction and vanilla cream, and a cup of Blue Bottle coffee. An excellent start to the day! We walked through the Haight a bit, did some record shopping, and the rain started to fall. We headed into the Golden Gate Park and checked out the Conservatory of Flowers and Botanical Gardens which were both incredibly beautiful and so fragrant in the fresh rain. The woody, grassy, pine and floral scents carried throught eh damp fresh air and despite the dull rainy weather, made the afternoon all the more special. The rainy day turned into a torrential downpour and so we eventually sought shelter in the Japanese Tea House, where we ordered some very bland 'supposedly flavored' hot water (listed as various teas on the menu!) and some kind of overpriced Japanese trail mix. Can't believe it was a $7 cover to enter this glorified snackbar. Granted the surroundings were really lovely and it was a nice place to kill 15 mins. during the rain storm, but this was clearly geared for the tourists and families. We caught the Muni back to our pad at Alamo Square and got geared up for a night out at the Castro and latenight dinner in Richmond. We initially had reservations at Jai Yun, but received a phone call the previous day informing us that they would be closed due to Chinese New Year. Instead we cabbed from the Castro over to PPQ Dungeness, only to find they were closed as well! Luckily, we were a short walk from Shanghai Dumpling King... still my absolute single favorite meal we'd eaten on opur entire trip through the Bay area! We really went all out for this one. Our server had us switch to a larger family sized table to accommodate the amount of food we ordered! Our 4-seater table was literally overflowing with plates stacked on top of one another. We started with a spic & tart cucumber salad which was served cold and really offered a nice clean kick of vinegary green to our otherwise gluten and meat heavy meal. Next came the oversized pan fried pork buns. Huge freshly baked doughy balls with a sweet chewy exterior and filled with a piping hot center of extremely flavorful, tasty and tender pork meat. A lovely and surprisingly delicate contrast of flavors and textures. The lion's head meatball casserole came next and was the shining star of the show! This bowl would have been enough for the two of us alone, but served only as an appetizer to what was to follow... an order of handmade xiao long bao steamed shanghai dumplings and hung zhou crab and pork dumplings (both exceptionally delicious!) and spicy chives and pork soup dumplings that my have been my favorite dish of the night! Then an order of Shanghai style stir-fried noodles, braised string beans (another big winner!) and sugar egg puffs for dessert! We figured we would only be here once, so we might as well try it all! We ended up making friends with the table next to us (the first of many such encounters during our two-week dining excursion through the Bay!) and shared most of our courses with the couple sitting next to us. They in turn, ordered the sugar puffs for dessert as a kind gesture for having shared our exorbitant meal with them. We rolled out onto the street with much admiration from the staff and patrons (we earned our stripes at this place!) and cabbed all the way back to the Castro just in time to catch the second feature. It's no surprise I fell right asleep in the aisles during the last screening!
The next day is a bit of a blur, but I think it started with breakfast at Brenda's French Soul Food in the Tenderloin. I had the most refreshing homemade watermelon iced tea and one of the daily morning specials that came with pork and grits; more tex-mex than Creole but still quite good. I would have liked to have tried one of the beignets or something a bit more French-Louisianna inspired like the hangtown fry or one of the dishes with crawfish or prawns, etc. but this was pretty rich and filling, if not the most interesting or unique to date. I really enjoyed this hearty morning starter, and we walked it all off through the Tenderloin and all the way down to the market building at the Embarcadero, where we had a cup of coffee at Frog Hollow Farm and browsed the many vendor's offerings. We then pushed along down the wharf. We stopped off at the Aquarium of the Bay which was a pleasant enough diversion but really nothing special, checked out Pier 39 which was tourist central (no surprise!) but still a lot of fun, and then walked down to the Musee Mechanique which was really neat! We bussed over to Smuggler's Cove (our favorite bar in SF... wel it's a toss up between that and Bourbon & Branch actually!) where we met a friend for cocktails. Turns out this place is only 5 blocks from our apartment and we knew right then and there that this would be a regular destination for evening nightcaps! We ordered about 3 drinks each (I ended up sampling half the rum cocktails before the end of this trip!) and then caught a ride with our friend over to the Castro to catch Gilda on the big screen. Then we headed down to Chinatown where we finally made it to Jai Yun after altering our reservation from the Chinese New Year closure the night before. There was a $50, $75, $100 and $150 per person dinner option, and I was told that the prices were based on the uniqueness, freshness and quality of ingredients, fish and produce being served. We opted for the $100 menu and what followed was about 18 or so courses of some of the more interesting regional Chinese dishes I've tasted to date, all served small plate tapas style, to be shared amongst the table. It was a wholly unique and interesting experience and overall quite tasty... but if I were to go back, I'd take up our oversized table at Shanghai in Richmond any day and fill it with the few remaining menu items we left off our initial visit! Overall, a great experience and one in whcih I'd definitely recommend everyone try at least once. Is it the best Chinese in San Francisco however? I'd wager not. But for an upscale multi-course dining experience, it surely offers one-of-a-kind service!
The next morning we bussed over to North Beach for a late brunch at Mama's and were seated promptly with no wait or queue at the door. I had an enormous stack of fluffy mouthwatering buttermilk pancakes loaded with fresh fruits, a separate fruit bowl, and a deliciously fresh-squeezed OJ. It was fantastic and I can understand why there would be line-ups on weekends. We walked over to Graffeo for some roasted beans afterwords, and then up to some corner cafe by the park for a few shots of double espresso to get us through the early afternoon. I should mention that we've been running on little sleep up to this point, and it was finally starting to catch up to us! We walked down to the Beat Museum which reminded me of a highschool gymnasium science fair complete with bristol board displays and glass cases containing cheap vintage girlie mags and pulps, the very same that sat in the magazine stand of my own bathroom at home! We slumped into some beaten up theater seats in the dingy backroom of the shop and began watching some PBS style dvd documentary of Kerouac's life before knocking off for an hour and waking up again with laughter realizing that we were sitting in this boring "museum" watching some guy's dvd collection on his boxy old crt television in the dark... we split and walked across the street to City Lights and then Vesuvio for whatever local was on tap, and got ourselves boozed up. Then we hiked up the Filbert Steps to Coit Tower, rode the elevator to the top and walked all over the hilly residential high streets of the surrounding area. After a quick stop at Molinari's delicatessen and a short record shop dig that turned out to be a bust, we cabbed over to Delfina in the Mission for an amazing dinner, despite the fact that neither of us had any appetite. A few glasses of wine helped to remedy that. I started with the proscuitto antipasti with warmed marinated walnuts and my friend ordered the grilled half moon bay calimari with white bean salad which was really outstanding and exceptional! I think he followed that up with some sort of dish that featured duck breast, and I got the risotto which was really rich, creamy and delicately textured. I completely forget how it was served, but I think it may have featured some type of local squash or pumpkin puree and possibly an accompanying meat like rabbit or something similar in a ragu. There were another two dishes ordered and both were equally wonderful, but at this point we were completely hungrover from food and drink, and too burned-out to have registered anything more, and so it shall remain a mystery until our eventual return... This was another one of my favorite meals in the city, and I only regret skipping out on the amazing looking desserts which all sounded fantastic! We had planned to walk up the street to Bi-Rite for ice cream after our meal, but instead opted to flag a cab and head straight back to Alamo Square to clock out for the night and catch up on much needed zzzzz's.
The next morning I managaed to sleep in and walked up to Alamo Square Park where I spent some time lingering on the grassy lawns in the sunshine, making friends with the dogwalkers, chatting with pretty girls and enjoying the scenic views from all sides. After returning to the apartment briefly to collect my friend, we headed down to Swan Oyster Depot for a late lunch. As usual, we spared no expense at the counter... a full sampler platter of oysters, little necks and sweet cherrystome clams with the spiciest horseradish sauce imaginable, a few pints of beer, two overwhelming seafood combo salads with heaping chunks of a variety of fresh shrimps, scallops, crab meat, prawns, and possibly more, all littered accross a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce and drenched in a delicious homemade thousand island dressing, and a couple orders of clam chowder. As usual, we made friends with the Hollywood couple next to us (who had been living offshore for 'tax reasons' and invited us out to an illegal underground gambling ring operating in the basement of some mechanics shop that weekend!) plus another family of ex-pat Montrealers on our other side who we bonded with over good food and drinks -- They passed down a plate of deliciously goopy dungeness crab guts which we easily helped them devour and sopped up with thick pieces of sourdough! We rolled out of Swan just in time to meet our pal for another round of cocktails at Smuggler's Cove. Then we drove back to the Castro for another night of vintage noirs and finished out in Oakland at some great old speakeasy jazz bar from the 20s with a terrific cocktail menu, where friends were throwing a record night. We hit the taco trucks (so far the better than anything we've had in the Mission!) and cabbed back to the city in the early hours to crash out.
The next day is another blur in my memory. I think I spent the morning with my girlfriend in the Mission after a hungover breakfast at Tartine where we ordered some morning buns, tarts, and gougères with gruyere, black pepper and thyme, which was a favorite of mine. I was also served an absolutely awful and bitter cup of espresso that tasted like it was pressed in somebodys gym sock. I didn't drink it. I think I spent a good portion of this day sleeping and resting at our apartment. I walked over to Japantown in the late afternoon to meet up with my friend outside Peace Plaza. We ate dinner at Ino Sushi and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had yet. We sat at the bar and didn't order a thing! We simply told the chef how hungry we were (we were starving!) and let him serve it up... did he ever!!! We spent about an hour at the bar and a hundred dollars per person from our pockets, but walked out completely satisfied with full stomachs. This was surely among the most authentic and freshest sushi I've had the pleasure of eating. The chef from Kyoto (if memory serves!) is exceptionally skilled with his knife and served up some of the tastiest nigri I've ever had. No fancy hand rolls, sauces, or chopsticks needed... we had about 15-20 servings from uni and hot unagi to several types of hamachi, maguro, hiramasa, toro, tai, saba, suzuki, ohyou, ankimo, hirame, and more... all sliced, dressed and served to perfection. Preparation was flawless and the fish was all so fresh, fatty and flavorful. I still dream about this meal and can no longer eat sushi in Montreal after experiencing Ino. I've spent time on several Hawaiian islands and eaten at some excellent and authentic Japanese sushi bars, but this was my favorite bar none. It's completely ruined fusion sushi for me here in the city and I can't wait to get back out the West Coast to try out Ryoko's, Sakae and others to compare. After dinner we hit the Castro for round (??) of Noir City and then drove out to Forbidden Island in Alameda to continue our tiki tour of the Bay Area! We ended up back in the Mission at a friend's dance night and stopped off for more latenight burritos; this time at either Taqueria or El Farolita - (I forget). They were good but nothing special. After a long night of drinking and dancing though, I'm sure they were the perfect fix.
TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW...
Here are all the places I missed on my list; I think we did a pretty good job of sticking to the itinerary considering:
Chinatown bakeries (can't believe we didn't do this!!)
Li Po Lounge + Mr. Bing's
PPQ Dungeness Island (my most anticipated and biggest disappointment of the trip!)
Lers Ros Thai
The Golden West
Focaccia at Liguaria (they were sold out every time!)
Farmer Brown's Little Skillet
Tommy's Mexican (tequilas!)
Top of the Mark
Irish Coffe at The Buena Vista!
Food Trucks (Chairman Bao, 4505 Meats, etc!)
I forget to mention that after Bourbon & Branch and before the Gold Dust Lounge, we stopped into Bix for a basil gimlet. It was fantastic, and perhaps I was spoiled by my previous surroundings, but the ambiance and soundtrack left a lot to be desired, so we finnished our drinks and continued on our crawl of the 'loin. I also forgot to mention that the lychee mojito I had at Burma Superstar was one of the best I've tasted!
Wed. Feb 1st was supposed to be my second to last night in SF (flight into Detroit and then back home was scheduled for Friday morning) and I felt the time flying by... I didn't want to leave! I called Delta and made up some story about a hospitalized family member, provided some phony doctor's name that I pulled off Google, and was successfully able to extend my trip (and eating tour of the Bay!) by an additional 2 days free-of-cost so that I could enjoy the added weekend! I woke up that morning feeling fantastic that I now had an additional (almost full week) to spend in the city! I called a cab for my girlfriend who had to work that morning, and spent the next few hours roaming around the neighborhood; around Alamo Square and up to the Castro, etc. My friend had gone out for coffee and returned in the early afternoon ready for more action. We headed down to the Financial district, hoping to grab a quick counter bite from either The Golden West, The Sentinel, or Deli Board in SOMA but by the time we caught Muni out there, it was just past 2pm and all fo these places were closed. I was pretty bummed out about it and craving some meaty counter fare. We were planning on hitting the SFMoMA that afternoon but our stomachs were leading us astray. I'd suggested we try Sam's Grill for oldschool fish and beer, but my friend was in the mood for Italian. We decided to postpone our afternoon activities and head back out to North Beach. Destination: Caffé BaoNecci! It was a really lovely afternoon and the sidewalks were alive and bustling with people passing in and out of the many shops and cafes lining the streets. We claimed a small window table looking out onto Green St. and promptly got in our orders. A tagliere antipasto toscano (prosciutto di parma, salame, coppa and pecorino cheese with meaty olives and crunchy capers) and a caprese salad to share. The charcuterie was one of the best I've had since travelling through Europe! The cured meats were so delisious and the fresh sliced pecorino with garlic bread, oil and capers was to die for! This was another one of my favorite meals in San Francisco! Next, we got a bottle of house wine to share, and two 12" pizzas. I went with the funghi porcini and arugula with san marzano sauce, fior di latte mozzarella, porcinis and parmigianno. This was way better than anything you'd find out in Brooklyn! My pal got the Monte Bianco with parma and mascarpone. He loded it with dried chile pepper flakes and hot oil and it was to die for! We lingered inside the cafe for about an hour and a half, eating and drinking too much wine, savoring every moment and mouthful! When I spilled the red house wine all over my tweed sportcoat we knew it was time to move on... we headed up the street to Vesuvio and Tosca for some beers. We were meeting our friend in less than an hour at Bourbon & Branch for cocktails and were already completely trashed! Not to mention we had dinner reservations at Canteen in only 3 hours! After a bit more booze in our bodies to soak up the late lunch, we headed down to the Tenderloin to meet our friend at B&B. As we're walking down the street, oine of those annoying iphone notifications beeped to alert me that our amigo had checked into some Indian restaurant (might have been Chutney on Jones St), which we just happened to be standing directly in front of. We piled in, to his surprise, and made room at his table while he cleaned off a plate of tikka masala. Then off to my favorite watering den in the city... Bourbon and Branch! We had made proper reservations the previous day to bypass Wilson's Library Bar and as soon as we approached the non-descript front of the building with it's Anti-Saloon League sign, I knew this was my kind of place! We turned off all cel phones and knocked on the front door to be greeted by a real classy lassie in full on flapper era attire who asked for our password and showed us to our table. What a place! The ornate detailing on the ceiling, the gilded chandeliers, secret passageways and hidden doors, swinging period music of Duke Ellington etc pounding away at the ivorys... all that was missing was some curvy torch-singing flame to take you back to when the twenties really roared! I love this place so much. words just can't express! I ordered the Frank Lloyd Wright and whatever the specialty cocktail was that night. We flirted with the waitress a bit and eventually slunked off into the Library bar for one last parting drink. I was feeling so good at this point, after an afternoon of non-stop liquor and food... and we weren't about to end it here! We slumped up the street to Canteen and poured into a small booth in the back of the restaurant. I really liked this place too and it's upscale diner decor. I forget what was on the prix-fixe but there was a great salad and/or soup option, and some kind of pan fried white fish (bass?). Dessert was a real stand-out but I'm sorry to say that I don't remember what was served. I don't remember much from this point on. My girlfriend met us as we rolled back out onto the street, and we headed up to the ill-fated Gold Dust Saloon for some more libations, since we'd heard it was closing it's doors for good in less than a month. Such a shame that this beautiful historic bar was going to be turned into an escalator for the adjoining hotel. We walked in just as the house band was playing Mona and ordered a few Irish coffees. We tossed some bills into the tip jar and put in a couple of dance floor requests (Freddy Cannon, Bobby Fuller, etc) and had a real fun time! We knew it was time to book when the band started playing oldies crap like The Eagles and so we caught a cab back to our favorite neighborhood top tiki pick, Smuggler's Cove, for a flaming rum barrel before bedtime!
The next day was my friend's last in San Francisco, and my last day in our apartment rental by Alamo Square. We woke up early and rented a car from the Enterprise Civic Center, which we bargained down to only $20/day. We had planned to head out to the Muir Woods that afternoon, followed by a final night of hedonistic, gluttonous eating and drinking in the East Bay. This was our swan song to San Francisco, as I was bidding farewell to my rooming mate and partner in gastronomic crime. We contemplated a second and last sushi run in Japantown before departing, but decided we'd rather seize the day and so we made a quick stop off in the Tenderloin at Saigon Sandwich for a take-out lunch, Vietnamese style! We both opted for the whopping combo sandwich with roast pork, bbq chicken, pate, tofu, etc. I got a coconut water to go and way too many of those little leaf-wrapped sides with pork, coconut, etc. plus a bunch of the dessert jellies, which are never good! I always want to try every one, and end up throwing them all out. Anyways, we drove across the bridge and through Saucalito, hiked through the Redwoods and stopped off at the Point Bonita Lighthouse on the way back. Then we caught the 101 North straight into Alameda, where we met my friend at his '50s mid century beachfront apartment that could've just as easily have been in Ft. Lauderdale! After a few mixed drinks and cocktail peanuts while watchin the sunset from his balcony, we headed off to St. George Spirits artisinal distillery for a special tasting! We sampled the absinthe, several brandies, single-matls, a few different gins, and liqueurs. We were all wasted! On the way out, I stopped into the gift shop to buy a three-pack of the gins we'd tasted, and then we drove to the Bart Station to meet my girlfriend for our absolute best meal of the entire SF trip... Commis! Our reservations were for 8:30 and we stumbled in just before 9pm. The kitchen is entirely open-face, an island extending out of the middle of the room, with several chefs preparing interesting and unique modern cuisine... this was by far the best food we've had the pleasure of tasting so far! Don't ask me what was brought out... it was a mix of innovative molecular gastronomy with foams and more rustic modern fusion dishes. Everything was farm to table fresh and the uniqueness of flavors, textures, temperatures, and layers to the cooking and preparation was an absolute delight. There was venison, scallops, interesting veggies and salads with hen's eggs and nuts and all sorts of wonderfully unusual ingredients and produce one would not normally expect to find... and yet everything worked so perfectly. I dare say it was an absolutely perfect meal from start-to-finish! We had a wine pairing which really sealed the deal. This place so far, is my favorite restaurant in the Bay Area. I only wish I could eat this well every night! We stepped out into the cool, calm night and walked back up Piedmont to our car, said our goodbyes and headed back over the Bay Bridge for our final night's stay in the Alamo Square apartment.
The next morning, we all woke up early and I drove my girlfriend back to her apartment in the Mission. I stopped off at Tartine bakery with my friend for our last provisions together in the Bay Area. Morning buns never tasted so bittersweet, haha. I drove him to SFO and wished him a safe flight home; we'd meet again on the other side! Meanwhile I was racing back to Alamo Square to pack up my belonging and treasure my last weekend in the city! I was moving all my belonging to my girlfriend's pad in the Mission and she had taken the afternoon off work to help. I drove out to the East Bay to meet and pick her up from work. We headed back into the Mission for lunch at Haltun Mayan Cuisine. We got the Haltun Platter to start, which came with 2 small sized portions of tamals, panuchos, salbuts, empanadas, pol-cans, dzoto-bi-chays, and kot's-dzitos... it was just 'alright', nothing stellar. I ordered the Cochinita Pibil which was pretty good, but the meat was very fatty and chewy. The homemade salsas and guac were outstanding however! I think we both consumed two entire nacho bowls each... We then walked down the street for dessert (gasp!) I had still never been to Bi-Rite, but we heard of this new artisinal ice cream shop nearby called Humphry Slocombe that had a bourbon flavored ice cream... we had to try it out! We got the secret breakfast and bourbon to share in a cup. I would have liked to try some of the other flavors. It was pretty good, but nothing monumental. I'm a bit of an ice cream obsessive and fanatic. Next time, I'll try Bi-Rite and Swensen's to compare. We left the Mission and drove up to Twin Peaks to admire the view at sunset. We both were feeling the weight of my fleeting time in the city, and I think trying hard to keep focused on other things in order to be able to enjoy the remaining day ahead. We drove back to Alamo Square to finish packing up and ended up falling asleep for a good 2 hours before being woken up by a Mexican cleaning woman who came stumbling in over my bags. We packed up the rest of my belongings, apologized to the cleaning lady, and drove back to the Mission to drop everything off. I think we were so beat by the time we found parking and got back upstairs, that we immediately passed out for the night.
The next day I woke up early wanting to get a start on the morning, but m girlfriend had other ideas. I had visions of dungeness crab, oysters, chinese buns, thai food, etc... but we had plans to meet friends at Lovejoy's Tea Room in Noe Valley instead. Afternoon tea and crumpets?! On my last day in SF?!? Serious bummer! I was starving and knew this would not be my thing. We sat down at a table with 4 other friends and ordered a couple pots of tea (I could care less about them) and some finger sandwiches (we each got to chose TWO!) and a small quiche to share between 6 people. I could have eaten a horse that morning, but instead, I found myself nibbling on pear and blue cheese sandwiches and half a scone with jam. I ordered a cheese plate which didn't fare much better, but as everyone was being polite and taking small portions, I somehow managed to dig in and fill myself up pretty well. I actually would have liked this place a lot were I a SF resident. It seemed like a lovely way to pass a nice afternoon with my girlfriend... but not for my last lunch in SF!! We split from Lovejoy's and headed out to the Presidio to check out the Walt Disney Museum, which if you've never been and just assumed it a touristy place to visit, I'd strongly offer my recommendation... what a cool place! I could have easily geeked out and spent hours in there, but I sensed my girlfriend was getting kind of antsy and we wanted to stop by the Tonga Room at the Fairmont for a drink before I flew out, so after about an hour and a half roaming around, we raced across town for my last stop on our tiki tour! We showed up at around 6pm and there was already a long line-up at the door. I walked down the hall to the bathrooms and tried to call the restaurant and pretend as though I was checking in on an existing reservation. Didn't work! Turns out we only had about a 20 mins. wait and we were in. I've been to the Tonga before and it's an amazing place... to bad I can't say the same thing about the drinks! I must have sent 3 of them back. They were all sickly sweet and tasted like syrip and artifical sugar. I ordered a zombie and had to ask if they'd brought me a virgin. The Planters Punch and Ubangi were undrinkable. I think I ordered a Blue Hawaii and Pipeline too (being a huge Challengers fan!) and we shared a Lava Bowl, which they refused to light on fire! We easily sent back half of the drinks. A major bust! We headed straight from the Tonga to this great Italian restaurant that my girlfriend chose in Lower Haight called Uva Enoteca. She said one of her good friends works there and promised to hook us up - did they ever! I starfted with a charcuterie of speck, bresaola, salame abruzzo and maybe a prosciutto too. Next we shared a boccoli rabe with pears and almonds, and an incredible cauliflower app that was out of this world! For my main, I ordered an orecchiette with wild boar, tomato, sweet onions and parmigiano. My girlfriend got a pasta with upland cress, tarragon, pumpkin seeds and butternut squash sauce that was also excellent. I preferred mine! They brought out complimentary wine pairings with each course, and the chef sent over an absolutely delicious pizza with fresh sliced pears, smoked cheese and some type of spicy salame. We were stuffed and ended up bringing half of it home! If you haven't been to Uva, I highly recommend it as well. This one was not on my list of places to check out, but ended up being a really pleasant surprise. It's a warm intimate space with really amazing staff and a great kitchen. I'll definitely be back next time I'm in the city! Anyways, we rolled back to our car and headed for the Mission for a quick shower and change and then drove out for one last night of dancefloor fun! I swung by a friend's DJ night at this real dirty dive called Pop's and then we ended up at some place that I was too drunk to remember but wasn't really digging the tunes. My friends were celebrating a birthday at Tosca and apparently Sean Penn was there too. I really wanted to head over but my girlfriend was having a good time, so we stuck around until I started to fade out and convinced her to head back home. We crashed out, woke up early, ate one final Mission burrito and then drove myself to the airport, leaving my girlfriend with the rental to return. I sat in my terminal eating the leftover pizza from the night before, musing over all the fun memories and amzing eats I'd experienced in your great city over the past two weeks. What a trip!!
really, really impressive - you did our City (and environs) right!
have to agree with your friend.... we still just don't do mexican quite as well as so. cal. (i'm from their originally.) but i do have my faves here.
glad you liked Swan Oyster, Foreign Cinema, and Commis so well - those are some of my favorite places here too.
thanks for the incredibly thorough reporting, and for having such great stamina. i would totally hang with you!
I had such a blast and completely fell in love with your city. I'm actually trying to move out there this summer! My girlfriend is trying to help me find work/obtain a visa and I've already got my place here in MTL listed on the market. I may sublet to cover rent, but I'm determined to find my way back! On my very first day walking through the streets I genuinely felt like this was where I belonged. It felt like home to me. What a beautiful place. The sense of heritage and architectural preservation on every single block, the sheer beauty of the Bay and bridge with the hills and skyline on the other side and panoramic vistas in all directions. SF is really my kind of town! I felt like the fat kid in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who went around eating everything he saw! I met so many friendly people, tasted so many good things, experienced such beautiful scenery and surroundings. And the climate is ideal; never too hot, never too cold! It's like Canadian autumn (my fave time of year) all year-round! Endless food and cocktails (I can't eat Asian, Mexican, Indian, etc. or order a mixed drink at any bar in Montreal again!) and there is ALWAYS something happening. Great record/dance nights, interesting art exhibits, museums, rep screenings in gorgeous golden-age cinema palaces... San Francisco has everything! It completely ruined where I live for me, haha. I just don't want to be here anymore!
Okay, one more for today...
The next morning, I cabbed back to Alamo Square and lazily spent the first half of the day in bed! My friend swung by in the early afternoon and we caught Muni down to the Embarcadero for a quick bite before heading off to the Wharf for an evening tour of Alcatraz. We didn't realize how short on time we were, and had to dash down the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building to make it in time for the ferry launch. Half-way there, we hopped onto one of those touristy bicycle charriots and felt completely ridiculous as we hid our faces while racing down the street. When we hopped off, we got hit with a $20 bill for a half-mile ride... $20 for 2.5 mins of pedaling?! Does this guy think he's a doctor or something?? Anyways, we herded into the ferry with hundreds of other tourists, and as I hadn't yet eaten a bit of food all day, I made the mistake of ordering some gross microwaved breakfast burrito and coffee-flavored water from the Alcatraz cafe. I think it was the same food they used to serve the prisoners. yuk! We toured the island which was really neat, and got back to the mainland just in time to meet my girlfriend at the Embarcadero Bart to head out to Oakland. Earlier in the week, she'd been selling me on Chez Panisse. We actually had reservations at Serpentine in the Dogpatch that night, but I'd only gotten "meh" remarks and feedback from all I'd spoken to about it, so we decided to cancel and eat elsewhere. I had been dying to try PPQ Dungeness in Richmond ever since our first failed attempt the week before, but my girlfriend had always wanted to eat at Chez Panisse, so I made reservations for us. Now the last thing I wanted to come to San Francisco for was French food!! And even at that, I would have sooner chosen La Folie or, on the higher end (not French) somewhere like Ame, which I was really eager to try out as well. But I'd heard how influential this place was supposed to be on the whole local/organic food trend and how Alice Waters basically introduced French-inspired California cuisine to the West Coast, so I decided to appease my lady and give it a go. I'd heard only one less-than-stellar review from a friend who had dined on the night that it was revoked one of it's Michelin stars, and so the kitchen had apparently suffered as a result... but I adjusted my expectations accordingly, and I have to say that I wasn't really impressed by CP at all. Everything was unquestionably sourced from the absolute freshest produce and perfectly prepared. Everything was tasty and flavorful. Nothing was particularly interesting or unique. Overall, I found it a somewhat bland and stuffy experience, not reflective of San Francisco's best tables, which we'd come to experience later in our trip. The decor and ambiance itself was quite lovely, cozy and intimate, and I really liked the open kitchen design which allowed diners to peer in to observe the workings of the kitchen. It was a fixed-prix menu (as I understand it always is) and I wish I could remember what we ate on this night... but the truth is that it just wasn't that memorable. I remember eating a lot fo fresh baked bread throguhout the evening, but that's about it. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy our dinner at Chez Panisse, I just found it overpriced and not where I would have otherwise chosen ot eat, given other similarly priced options. I had a really nice evening nonehteless though. We caught Bart back to the Embarcadero and cabbed over to Smuggler's Cove for a nightcap to end another day.
The next day we headed out Daly City for some of the best dim sum I've eaten so far at Koi Palace... this place was really extravagant and we went overboard with everything! Against our servers better judgement (too much food!), we started with some steamed shrimp dumplings with XO sauce, shrimp, pork & mushroom shu mai, spinach and pork dumplings, and steamed BBQ pork buns. Then we ordered the lamb buns in clay pot with steamed shallots which were exceptional! Next I ordered the Shanghai crab roe pork dumplings and the whole dungeness crab with steamed dumplings and fried legs, which was a guilty pleasure - like eating fried chicken out of a bucket! The spicy Mongolian beef rice roll was my favorite of everything we'd sampled so far, along with a spicy jellyfish salad that we pulled off one of the passing carts! For dessert we had the crispy mango rolls, almond cream filled buns, deep fried sesame balls, and some kind of coconut and red bean gelatin... at this point, we both felt entirely sick and could barely stand! We caught a cab back to Bart and headed back to the Embaracadero. From there, we caught the Muni to Land's End and hiked the trail from the Cliff House and Sutro Baths all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. Along the way, we made friends with several hikers and joggers along the trail. We ended up in Richmond and to our misfortune, blocks away from PPQ! We had been walking for hours but still felt so stuffed from our gastronomic lunch that the thought of eating anything else that evening seemed impossible. We did the impossible, friends. PPQ was closed this day, so we trekked up a few blocks to Burma Superstar, and were so glad we did! This was another highlight of our trip to SF. I'm beginnign to notice that a lot of the great authentic ehtnic and asia food was out in Richmond, and if I had more time in the city, that's where I would have surely spent it! We started with the legendary tea leaf salad which lived up to all the hype and more! Next came the Nan Pia Dok which was my favorite of the evening! We ordered a side of coconut rice and pumpkin pork stew, which was only okay. I think I would have preferred this dish with the shrimp. I ordered a Samusa soup and side of platha bread to take home to my girlfriend. Before doing so, we stopped off at Toy Boat Cafe for an ice cream, but I couldn't srtomach it and wimped out. We cabbed back to Alamo Square to meet my girlfriend, regrouped, and headed back down the street to Smuggler's Cove where we took our usual seats at the rum bar. We'd gotten to know and befriended all the staff at this point and were VIPs whenever we blew in. A few strong rum cocktails later (all packing a serious punch!) and we drifted back up the street after last-last-call (and a last nightcap with our pals behind the bar!) to close out another fabulous day!
TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW!
I just don't think they compare to the SoCal burritos I've had years back. The tortillas are too moist and chewy rather than crispy, which is how I like them. I guess this is because they're steamed in foil rather than grilled or cooked on an open flame. They're also loaded with soggy pinto beans and rice as filler. Not what I remember from my trips up the coast, where the juicy carne asada covered in salsa fresca was the selling point. SF burritos are these messy oversized sponges that drip and drip all over you and from what I've experienced, seem to just be these wet piled on messes that are really only good for late-night drunk fare. I've had the al pastor at Farolita, Cancun, La Taqueria, tried just about everything at Haltun Mayan Cuisine, fish taco's at Nick's newest restaurant (Tacko) and nothing really impressed me that much. Part of the problem was that I found the meat to be pretty boring and tasteless at many of these places. And it's all loaded with way too much filler. On my next trip over in spring, I'm gonna plan a roadtrip up the coast to compare. I don't think the Mission burritos were bad, they just weren't that big of a deal to me and I'm crazy about Mexican food. I could take 'em or leave 'em in San Fran, and I feel like I put in a pretty good effort on this trip. Anyways, back to the trip report later...
A Mission-style burrito is by definition loaded up with rice and beans. That and the steamed tortillas date back to the place that invented the style.
Some places will do meat-only burritos for a higher charge. Some grill their burritos, others will grill rather than steam on request. I prefer tacos myself.
The burritos are a regional preference, so there's no reason to force it if you like a different style. We have places that grill the burritos, or make a more Southern California - San Diego style, or just other variations upon request, but that's not really the SF specialty. Many of us love the very things you described as being a turn off.
I'd say switch to tacos or tostados, but if you're partial to marinated or heavily salted meats then you're going to be disappointed most places, unless you go for more sit down, formalized Mexican like Nopalito (owned by the Nopa people), or better yet, try some South American specialties. There are also vendors at places like the Alemany farmers market that use fresh pressed masa, with options like blue corn, that might be of interest. Otherwise it sounds like you're better off hitting up your other food options.
Yes, well we found San Francisco to be such an inviting and friendly city, it was difficult not to chat and socialize with everyone we met. I don't think there was a restaurant, cafe or bar we walked into that we didn't make some sort of acquaintance with locals or other travelers. It was one of the nicest parts of the city for me; especially coming from Montreal where a segregated bilingual culture makes for a much less outward and approachable demographic. People just seemed more friendly, open and willing to engage in discussion with two strangers from another city. Be it homeless guys in the Tenderloin, pretty girls in the parks, joggers running along the Land's End, servers in restaurants and bars and just about everyone we'd encountered. We actually made several friends who we've kept in touch with from our dining excursions. Anyways... on to part two of our eating tour of San Francisco!
Friday the 27th... crashed at my girlfriend's apartment in the Mission the night before and woke up late, just in time for brunch! We walked over to Samovar Tea Lounge in the Castro. My gf was treating me to lunch today and this is supposedly one of her favorite spots. There was a line at the door and we were told it would be a 40 min. wait but we got lucky and were seated in the back after a few minutes. We started with a marinated and grilled portabello mushroom salad over mixed spring greens, cucumbers, sun-dried tomatoes, and tarragon-balsamic vinaigrette. It was light and excellent. I wanted to try the handmade squash dumplings but they were out, so my girlfriend ordered a savory vege quiche and I had the Jook bowl with smoked duck and rice, served with scallions, toasted garlic, peanuts, nori, cilantro, sriracha and tamari soy sauce. It was amazing and paired nicely with my pot of chilled Schizandra Berry. I really enjoyed this place a lot, and as it happened to be a beautiful, hot and sunny morning, we walked up to what I think was Buena Vista Park and spent the afternoon relaxing on the lawns, enjoying the sunshine and people watching! I caught a bus back to the Alamo Square apartment just in time to shower and change for another night of noir screenings, good food, and dancing! We hit the Castro early to catch Thieves' Highway (one of my all-time favorites with great SF locations!) and then decided to skip out on the equally great second-feature (The Breaking Point with John Garfield) to have an earlier dinner at NOPA nearby. We met my girlfriend and other out of town visiting friends and were seated roughly 2 hours before our reservation. This was another of my favorite meals in SF. We ordered the flatbread with housemade ricotta, arugula pesto, currants and walnuts to share for the table. It was really fantastic! It was a toss up for me between the housemade pappardelle with spicy fennel sausage, squash, tomato cream and parmesan or the rabbit loin with chantenay carrots, wild rice, mushrooms, raisins and some other ingredients which I'm forgetting. I had the rabbit at the recommendation fo our server, and it was definitely the clear winner of the night! One friend ordered the pork chop and another the Moroccan vegetable tagine with almonds and lemon yogurt... I tried the latter and it was also exceptional. Afterwards, we walked down to a friend's record night in the Mission and danced away the extra weight we'd packed on, only to end up at another latenight taqueria to close the evening. We cabbed back to Alamo Square and turned the page on another day!
The next morning was off to a late start... we spent some time in the Mission, vintage shopping, and walking around. I headed off to North Beach for a burger at Mo's Grill and then back to our pad to nap. I met my friend late in the afternoon and we headed down to the storied Chez Poulet Mission warehouse for our most anticipated dinner to date at Lazy Bear! We arrived 15 mins. early and claimed our seats at the large communal tables in the cozy large red brick space with wood floors and glowing led christmas style lights adorning the walls. It looked like a lovely evening but the only thing we were short on was wine... I had wanted to stop into K&L before dinner but my friend took forever to get ready, so we had to settle for the neighborhood liquor store where we opted for a regional unoaked chardonnay and a $12 cabernet, neither of which were very exciting. To our good fortune however, we were seated nect to an incredibly enthusiastic, friendly, knowledgable and generous sommelier who was all too eager to share his vintage bottles (including an incredible 1969 riesling!) which made for a very fun atmosphere. This was actually my favorite part of Lazy Bear, the communal dining experience of sharing good food and drink with other likeminded bon-vivants! We made friends with a Spanish couple sitting beside us who later joined us for dancing and drinks in the Tenderloin. Back to the dinner though! It was really something special... Everything was a hit, and you can tell that this was a real labor of love for chef David. All servings were plated and presented with such artistry, offering an interesting and intricate mix of flavors and freshness. There were no heavy overpowering sauces or creams. The subtelties of each dish were really meant to bring out their natural savors and strengths, focusssing on the complexities of the flavors and cooking process. I'm going from online detals rather than memory as I tend to zone out on menus featuring more refined dishes with many ingredients, and instead get lost in the food itself. But I believe we started with a deliciously rich country duck ham with egg yolk, creamy brioche, orange marmalade, and crispy chives, following a refreshing amuse bouche of some kind, which I've completely forgotten despite it being entirely worthy of remembering! The next course was a perfect miso soup with miner's lettuce, matsutake, radish, and wood sorrel. Then some pan seared scallops with bacon XO, and deep-fried brussel sprouts which were out of this world! A cured tombo aged in lime ash with BBQ pineapple and lime zest was both fatty, tangy and bursting with flavor. It was really wonderful! An entree of beef cheeks with king trumpets, purple potatoes, pickled mustard seeds and rye came out next, followed by a rustic plate of broccoli, barley, cheddar, and beer which was the perfect finale to the perfect meal! Oh wait - dessert! Black sesame, juicy blood orange (a fixture on almost all SF menus; is it seasonal?), yogurt and chervil... followed by an amuse bouche of some sort of delectable chocolate mousse, I believe. We spent about 3 hours at Lazy Bear that night, enjoying great food and interesting conversation with good company! David was telling me that he is using Lazy Bear as a vehicle to eventually launch his own restaurant in SF and if and when that eventually comes to fruition, I urge everyone to check it out and support a terrific chef who is not only wholly passionate about food and cooking, but a very gifted culinary artist. In fact, I encourage everyone to check out the next Lazy Bear dinner, as it's really a wonderful concept and a really fun night out... the food ain't too shabby either! Afterwords we walked up to this divey bar in the down and out Tenderloin for some whiskey bullets and some soul shaking on the dancefloor. Then back to my girlfriend's apt in the Mission to end another night!
Sunday morning we woke up just in time to walk up the street to Foreign Cinema for brunch. I really love this place! We sat at a table in the beautiful courtyard and I can only imagine how pretty it must be to sit out under the stars at night with old movies projected on the adjacent wall. What a great concept for a restaurant! We started with a dozen oysters and shared an appetizer of Indian spiced local calamari baked with sauce romesco and aioli. I had the dungeness crab legs with warm butter oil and my girlfriend had some omelette with chanterelle and nettle torta, tomato jam, arugula, lemon, parmesan and picudo olive oil, which I polished off for her... It was another gorgeous sunny afternoon and so we walked through the streets, window shopping, before cabbing back to the Alamo Square pad to do our laundry. That evening we met friends at Mission Cheese on Valencia for some cheese and vino. I had a few glasses of Cancion del Mar and the Mongers Choice cheese flight. We then walked up the street to Commonwealth which I think was my favorite of the modern midrange restaurants we dined at. Better than Nopa imo, different then Delfina (can't rightly compare) but a top pick from our trip for sure! We ordered the tasting menu with wine pairing for two and my girlfriend swapped out the red meat for veges. It started with a bowl of handmade table chips with kombu and vinegar foam and moved on to a light and delectable abalone salad full of asian pears, radish, tapioca, horseradish, and dashi gelée. This wasn't to my girlfriend's liking for whatever reason, and so the kitchen insisted on bringing out another entree of citrus salad, with charred avocado, beet-black olive crumble, yogurt mousse, and sesame cracker for the two of us to share. It was amazing! Next came a dungeness crab porridge, with sea urchin, pumpkin, leek, ginger, and kaffir lime. Outstanding! Then Jerusalem artichoke, onions cooked in hay, quinoa, chickweed, and quail egg... my favorite dish of the night! Next came the main of venison, kale, turnips, sweet potato mousse, and Blis maple syrup. My girlfriend had the venison swapped out for some sort of root vegetable terrine I think. An amuse bouche of blood orange sorbet with chantilly cream cleansed our palettes for the real star of the show... an otherworldly peanut butter semifreddo, with chocolate ganache and frozen popcorn! We were both floating at this point... I think the 6 course wine pairing had something to do with that. We polished off our plates and glasses, and headed home to our apt. up the street on 18th. That's as far as I'll go for now...
TO BE CONTINUED SOON!