Voluminous report from grayelf's spring 2012 trip to Bay Area
With steering from this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/838958 we had another topnotch gastro-time in SF. Here's my LOOOONNGG report with some photos.
Rain and high winds in SF meant closing TWO runways, delaying us enough to miss our 7:30 reservation at Canteen. Wah! A full-on dining tragedy was averted, however, by a phone call to tell the lovely folks at Canteen to cancel and another to book for later at Lers Ros. Our DCs also leapt into action and offered to pick us up at the airport which was above and beyond. Consulting my research, we ordered 6) Nuer Tod (fried sun dried beef), 14) Som Tom Khai Khem (green papaya salad with salted eggs), 26) Yum Pla Duk Foo (fried catfish), 62) pork belly with crispy rind and 103) Nuer Pad Prik Thai Ooan (beef with young peppercorn and galingale). We had tried 6), 14) and 62) before and they were as good or better than previously, particularly the sun dried beef which was more tender than last time. For me the standout was 26) which is hard to explain but easy to eat. The catfish is in tiny pieces caught up in a gossamer web of deepfried crunchiness. Along with the bright and zippy dipping sauce, I could eat a barrelful. My least favourite dish was 103) despite the presence of my beloved green peppercorns on the stem. There was some other flavouring in there that didn’t appeal to me but I believe I was in the minority. Another stellar meal at Lers Ros and the cost was as usual extremely reasonable, about $25 each all in and including a couple of Thai iced teas and a beer. Next time I’ll be sure to try the nam khao tod I was reading about on a recent thread. No photos as we were at a darker table.
Our first coffee stop of the trip was Fourth Wave on Polk at Pine. As they only have Latin American beans, I had a Guatemalan pourover which was quite tasty. The SO was rather less impressed with his cappuccino ($3), characterizing it as “strong old school.” Full marks to this café for a comfortable and spacious setup with a surfing theme and welcoming staff who even greeted one of the local denizens of the street by name. They get some of their snacks from Sonoma Muffin Works in Sebastopol and we tried a more than adequate breakfast burrito with spuds, eggs, bacon, jack and cheddar ($4). We also noticed a little diner nearby advertising Canadian bacon and eggs for $6.25 called the New Village Café (1426 Polk) that might bear investigating on another trip, but today our next stop was a revisit of Contraband Coffee just a few blocks away, where the SO had a cappuccino made with Illicit Espresso ($3.25, more citrusy and less gnarly than last visit was his assessment). We lounged in the sun awaiting our lunch companions to head over to Sotto Mare in North Beach.
We had planned on deep fried pork hock at Shanghai House but alas they were closed for vacation. Sotto Mare turned out to be a worthy if rather different option. I had been wanting to try the simply prepared fish here for several trips. It lived up to the hype, especially the petrale which was cooked perfectly. Each dish was $19 and they were all generous portions, even the black cod which is a more expensive fish. I would go back for sure but would share a dish, as I donated half my slightly overcooked sand dabs to our DCs for a kedgeree or some such the next day :-).
Our next target was City Beer as we had heard about their great selection. Since it was quiet the ’tender kindly offered us a couple of tastes and a half pour for me of the 2009 sour they had on draft called Ommegang Zuur ($7 for the regular 7-ounce pour). They don’t usually do this apparently. He was knowledgeable about sours, explaining why bottled ones are worth trying and pointing me to the Russian River offerings, one of which we were able to secure on Friday. The SO had a full pour of the Auburn Alehouse nitro Porter ($5 for 12 ounces) which he thoroughly enjoyed, pub carpet flavour and all It’s a cozy spot for a brew, and I like that they’ve converted old beer barrel staves into skinny chalk boards that announce what’s on tap.
We also poked our noses into Pinkie’s/Citizen Band since it is on the corner. These look like great options in the nabe, especially the fried chicken and biscuits, the pork belly poutine with house made (!) cheese curds and the daily rotating cuts of “red waddle breed” pork at CB.
Then it was off to Chile Pies on Baker to try the lemon buttermilk (1 slice, a scoop of Three Twins Tahitian vanilla ice cream and four forks). The pie was very good, not too sweet and with a very short and crunchy crust – I usually dislike crusts on restaurant pies but this I ate. Also loved the slice of baked lemon on the top to nibble on. I thought the ice cream was too sweet but my vanilla-ice-cream-loving SO disagreed.
By the time we headed out to Local Mission Eatery it was starting to rain, which was just the appetizer for the main course of a wild thunderstorm and torrential rain that went on all evening as we gazed out the picture window at it (we heard later it flooded several businesses in the area including Humphry Slocombe). Quite the floor show to accompany a lovely meal. We started our official date night of the trip with a glass of wine, a 2009 Pinot Noir from Paul Matthew in the Russian River Valley ($14) for the SO and a 2009 Chardonnay from Broadside in Paso Robles ($10) for me which went particularly well with the mains. Armed with some recent suggestions from local Hounds, we went with two of the “bites” to start, the kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and pancetta along with the marinated squid, white beans, pickled peppers and mint ($7 each). I preferred the sprouts and the SO the squid so that worked out but both were well executed. We followed with two small mains (they come in two sizes), the polenta cooked in whey with poached egg, goat gouda, smoked braised greens and ricotta ($12), and the grilled quail with wheat berries, beets, asparagus, pea shoot pistou and jus ($13). The whey was perfect comfort food and I adored it. The quail we took a flyer on and it was a good call, with the tiny bird bits done perfectly, even a little crunchy skin on there. I’m a bit of a sucker for wheat berries and these were expertly prepared. Because we’d been warned about sizing, our careful ordering allowed us to indulge in two desserts from Knead Patisserie which were both worthy. There was a roasted strawberry “delice” with meringue, lemon and almond that was good but not mind blowing (the meringue was a touch overcooked). The winner for me was the milk and honey beignets which were light and delicious with caramelized walnuts that were pralinesque heaven. We also had lovely Red Blossom teas that were brewed properly, huzzah. I chose the caffeine-free elderflower osmanthus and the SO went with black Xin Gong Yi. No pix because it was a date night.
On Friday morning, we headed over to farm:table. I had read that some people feel the portions are small for the price but to me the value is in the quality of thefood. The room is also as tiny as reported (see photo of wee interior) but perfectly comfortable for an hour-long sojourn. They have lovely glassware here and the coffee is quite decent, Verve for the drip/pourovers and their own Colombian roast for the espresso. I tried a house-name drink called a Tenderknob ($3), a four-ounce version of the five-ounce Gibraltar. I had heard that they were stocking Starter kouign amann Friday to Sunday only (they don’t seem to have a working phone line so I couldn’t confirm ahead what I’d read online) and sure enough they had strawberry ones ($4). Not as rich as the plain one I’d tried previously at Coffee Bar or the hazelnut to come (see Friday) but still very tasty. We shared a goat cheese frittata ($8) that was light and delicious, the spuds on the side well cooked and seasoned. We also tried a roasted veg “gratin” with a (too soft) poached egg ($8.50) – I could eat that veg all day. The chef had repurposed yesterday’s potato soup to make it which probably explains the lovely herbal notes in it. I plan to return here on our next trip as it is the closest café to our hotel that has good coffee, great pastries and tasty savoury options.
We hadn’t yet made it to our favourite café, Blue Bottle Mint Plaza, so that was the next target. I tried a Nel drip for $6.50 (the most expensive coffee I’ve had yet) and enjoyed watching the extraction. This Japanese process takes 12-15 minutes and yields a four-ounce cup of coffee (in this case Abakundekawa Coe from the mountains of Rwanda). Its hallmark is low, slow heat, and the handle-less Heath cup (http://www.heathceramics.com/cook-dine/small-modern-cup.html -- let’s hope they get them wholesale!) is also heated. It is higher acid than many other coffee beverages I was told but does not taste overly sour or citrusy with no bitterness. The resulting drink is quite syrupy and thick, and doesn’t need sugar or cream, though I tried adding some at the end and it was also delicious.
Check out the report on our lunch at Cotogna ($101.50 for 3) already posted here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7536.... I was charmed by the huge piles of firewood in every corner. Here’s a pic of some plus one of the beer and the dessert to supplement mariacarmen's shots. After some window shopping, we stopped at La Boulange on California for a not-great kouign amann, this time chocolate. The SO nabbed the last one for me, and granted it was late in the day so that may have affected the quality but I would venture this is not a top contender. I also have to say the proliferation of LB’s is not doing the ambiance any favours – this one feels kinda corporate.
Since I have been haunted by memories of the nam khao ($9) at Vientiane in Oakland since first trying it in November of last year, we arranged a revisit with the redoubtable Oakland Hounds. Some beef jerky at the counter became our amuse bouche – really thin and meaty with a hint of sweetness. We were seated immediately at 7:15 and my only complaint was that the room was quite chilly. Service was cheerful and efficient. Our target dish was as good or better than last time and I made a pig of myself. The sai ooa or Lao sausage ($2.50 a piece) was even better than before, spicier and softer. The mok pa (steamed catfish, $5) was delightful as before and we were all quite taken with the som pa or whole pickled fish ($7) that had a unique flavour and texture. The one Thai dish we ordered was from the specials menu, the roast duck salad ($10.95) which ironically I did not find very special but it was tasty. We also tried the som pak (pickled vegetables, $3) and a bowl of the kao soy noodle soup ($5.95) that as advertised was even better with a sprinkle of powdered tamarind soup base (!). We supplemented this feast with brown rice, jasmine rice and sticky rice and I had a Thai iced tea with less mix and more milk. All this was $60 for four pre-tip and there were leftovers. Really outstanding.
After dinner we picked up a Russian River Consecration sour aged in Cabernet barrels at the giant Oakland Whole Foods near Grand Lake – at $18 pretty pricey for a bottle of beer but worth it. It went very nicely with the Lush Gelato that we purchased from their store on Piedmont in Oakland. We tried stracciatella, espresso and my favourite, balsamic mascarpone and graham cracker ($7 a pint when you buy more than one). This gelato is very worthy, smooth and creamy, with big flavours.
Pix below: Fourth Wave, sand dabs and petrale at Sotto Mare, Zuur at City Brewing, lemon pie at Chile Pies, inside of farm:table, "Tenderknob" drink at f:t, fritatta, kouign amann and veggie dish at f:t, Nel pour and finished product at Blue Bottle Mint Plaza
Bet you thought I was done, oh no, here's Saturday to Monday ;-).
I had kouign amann on the brain again on Saturday morning so we BARTed out to Four Barrel in the Mission to sample Belinda Leong’s, which was delicious and the only plain one I had this trip. When we arrived there was a huge throng and we were considering bailing when the SO spotted his brother sitting in the window. Small world. I ordered a mocha (guess it was worth it to confirm I still don’t love Four Barrel coffee). The SO enjoyed his cappuccino and banana chocolate scone, also by Ms Leong.
We left this loud and not-so-cozy room to try the Sycamore for their Saturday brunch. It being a gorgeous if cool day, we chose a prime table by the window, noting that the patio quickly filled up while we were there. Didn’t hurt that David Bowie’s album Hunky Dory was playing en toto on the sound system. The SO ordered a Dogfish Head Sah’tea ale on tap ($8 for 9 oz) which was delicious with strong clove notes and honey sweetness. The carnitas benedictas ($13) were as good as reported with particular kudos to the sopes, though the avocado was MIA. The SO went for a veggie scramble with lovely spuds on the side ($11) which was also tasty if not unusual. The fruit cup was topnotch and made the SO very happy. The one disappointment was the pork belly donuts (3 for $4) – way too much like bad deep fried AmeriCanto sweet and sour pork, did not finish ’em, and I rarely eschew deep-fried things. This is a bar so you order at the counter and the ambiance is bar like but it was welcoming and bright inside. We headed back over to Valencia and wandered for a while, stopping in to Xanath to pick up some vanilla.
On Saturday afternoon I had a bit of a Mission crawl planned with local Hound mc so the SO went off to meet up with his brother and I hied me to Dolores Park. The park was as full as I’ve yet seen it, with almost the only empty spots on the grass being the muddy bits resulting from last night’s crazy storm. It was so busy there was even a lineup for the mens’ loo! I noted the Chaac Mool trailer supported by La Cocina was in attendance but I had to save belly space for our later plans.
We met at 5 pm at Mission Bowling Club for the famed Mission Burger. With aged and granulated patty, caramelized onion, Monterey Jack and caper aioli it doesn’t fall into my “regular” burger category but I knew that going in. Even the fact that it comes with weak mixed greens and not fries wasn’t a deal breaker because of the quality of this burg. Kinda hard to find the words. Wow works. I’ll be back for this burger again, and I will be eating the whole thing (we shared to save belly room) especially if it is $10 instead of $15 as it is during the 3-6 pm happy hour. It’s so good I almost went back the next day. We scored seats on their outdoor patio overlooked by the tuna can sculpture – this is a good option if you aren’t actually bowling as it can be quite loud inside. We also enjoyed a pair of #2 Corpse Revivers ($10 each, no discount on weekends).
We had a reservation at Radish at 6:15 which turned out to be lucky as they were full but for our table when we arrived. We tried the cats and puppies ($8) and the shrimp corndogs ($9) and shared a Rodenbach Classic Sour ($5) to introduce my dining partner to the delights of sour beer. The food was tasty and went well with our beverage but didn’t strike me as super special. Cute and comfortable room that I suspect I would frequent if I lived in the area.
Our next stop was Mission Cheese for the Mongers Flight ($12) chosen by the cheese ’tender based somewhat on your preferences (I stated rather too vehemently “No Swiss” for example). We tried kunik, a goat and cow triple cream from Nettle Meadow Farm in Thurman, New York ($34 a pound to go, characterized as like butter on the retail menu), Mt Saint Francis goat from Capriole in Greenville Indiana ($36 a pound, characterized as stinky and delicious) and Marisa, a cave-aged sheep from Carr Valley Cheese in Lavalle Wisconsin ($35 a pound, characterized as smooth and earthy). Two grumps: music was ’way too loud and sorta inappropriate for this kind of venue, and they close too early (8 pm). I understand they are pursuing an ABC licence that will allow them to stay open till 10 pm.
We wandered over to Wo Hing for a Dorchester Hotel inspired cocktail (Martin Miller’s gin, grapefruit, orange, lemon, syrup and a big ol’ chunk of orange zest) and a 50/50 Split (Plymouth gin, Dolin vermouth, orange bitters, lemon twist). Both were delicious with the first being a gulper and the second a sipper. We were well taken care of at the bar where we camped with the staffs' blessing for quite a while since the atmosphere was conducive to chatting even though it was well into prime dining time on a Saturday. I was surprised it wasn't busier.
We finished up with another sour, Duchesse de Bourgogne, at Shotwell’s, which had strong cranberry notes.
Meanwhile, the SO hit up Bar Bambino with the BIL for a salumi plate, boar salad and rabbit ragu with his bro, all reported to be topnotch.
Met up with a few Hounds and a Chowpup in Redwood City for a sampling of local offerings. I was surprised by how far away from the city it was (yes, I am geographically challenged and thanks Ruth for the ride) and it was cool to see another part of the Bay. We started at Los Gemelos and tried tripitas tacos (super crunchy and yum here, $1), barbacoa, cabeza and chicken (my top choice of the tacos fillings here) and a platter of chicken taquitos/flautas (one of my favourite things to eat in the world when well done as they are here, and a bargain at $6.25). The tortillas were homemade and very nice, though not double. We also shared an agua de jamaica, which is prepared by boiling dried calyces of Hibiscus sabdariffa that is known as sorrel in the West Indies, then adding sugar. So I guess we were both right, rwcfoodie :-).
We crossed the road to the micro-sized Casita Chilanga in search of tacos de borrego (lamb) but they were out, alas, so we consoled ourselves with a tesorito torta, which had a sorta bacony pork in it (puerco ahumado).
Our third stop was the big El Grullense on El Camino Real. We had tacos ($1.25), one each of the al pastor (too cinnamony for me) and carnitas (tasty if a bit greasy).
Our fourth and final target was supermercado y taqueria Chavez at 46 Fifth Avenue, where we split two tacos ($2.29 each but larger) and a pineapple mango agua fresca (fresh mango chunks!). Really good grilled carne asada and al pastor here. I was nearly reduced to tears by the aisles and aisles of products that are so hard/impossible to find at home. Very much enjoyed this foray to RWC. Would that we had more belly space to investigate further!
Back to hotel to change and meet up with the SO in Hayes Valley and a look into the outdoor biergarten that takes place by the park: http://www.yelp.ca/biz/biergarten-san.... Dang, those litre steins are big. But what a great idea: Then it was off to the Mission for a peek into Mission Bowling Club where the server recognized me from the day before and another nosh at Mission Cheese, this time with the SO. We shared an Izze sparkling clementine bevvie at Mission Cheese and enjoyed another Mongers Flight, with the delicious Kunik again (couldn’t resist!), plus Red Rock cheddar with a Roquefort vein from Roelli Cheese Haus near Shullsburg in Wisconsin and Asher, a raw cow’s milk blue from Sweet Grass Dairy in southern Georgia. Music was not nearly as loud as the day before FWIW.
Our visit to Maverick started off with a hiccup as our 7:30 table was not ready till 7:55. That is a real pet peeve for me and I gather for others because the person who we were dealing with was inordinately grateful that we were not angry with her for the delay. Campers must be terribly difficult to deal with when you are trying to turn tables. She offered to “hook us up” with a free appetizer, which I’ve never been offered for a delayed seating. There seemed to be a few such service-related glitches over the evening at other tables, with items being comped and the odd grumpy face. I’m not sure if they were underresourced or if it has to do with the very low average age of the staff or neither. But the rest of the evening was fine for us and we enjoyed the food. I had particularly wanted to come to Maverick to try their crunchy sweetbreads and this was the free app I chose. It was a play on the bar classic of red hot chicken wings with Buffalo hot sauce, blue cheese and celery root (normally $13) that came deep fried. I loved it but I mentioned to our server that I had never had sweetbreads before and still wasn’t sure if I knew what they tasted like given the strong flavours. Shortly thereafter, half a plain one arrived at the table for me to try! I will be seeking out sweetbreads in future.
For our “second plates,” I opted to try the spring vegetable risotto ($19) with ramps, asparagus, leek, English peas and parmesan. Risotto always seems a bit overpriced to me since I learned how to make it myself but this was really delightful, full of spring flavours and cooked to my preferred consistency. The SO went for the wild mushroom tagliatelle ($22) with hedgehog, yellowfoot, black trumpet plus caramelized onion and a slow cooked egg. The taste I had was salutary, with the pasta nicely al dente and the onions appropriately playing second fiddle to the ’shrooms. A spring pannacotta was the only dessert that appealed and we had been warned at the beginning of the meal that they were out so we declined afters and struck out into the Mission night to return to the hotel, noting on the way to the J Church car that the line at BiRite was insanely long and the soft serve window was closed.
I called and booked a hazelnut kouign amann at Coffee Bar in the FiDi as I wanted to revisit the first ka I’d ever tried. We walked down and picked it up, then were lured to Golden West by the smell of caramelizing onions which sadly were for lunch. I tried the corn bread with chorizo gravy and though I enjoyed the bread I found the gravy strangely sweet. We then caught a California #1 bus over to Fillmore for a wander. We popped into Jane where we had gone last trip when they were still serving Four Barrel (it’s De La Paz currently, the espresso being Black Candy). The SO had a hearty but healthy bowl of granola and fruit while I nibbled surreptitiously on my smuggled-in kouign amann. For me, Starter is winning the ka wars, with greater caramelization, more filling and ridiculously fresh and crunchy hazelnuts.
After an appropriate sojourn here chatting with the barista, Taco Bar was open and I couldn’t resist nabbing a shrimp taco ($3.75) as an additional snack. Just as good as last trip, this is a taco worth the money for the quality of shrimp and the balance of flavours.
Following a lovely interlude in the Strybing Arboretum (so many birds – parrots, hummingbirds and more) we were ready for a hearty late lunch at Magnolia Pub and Brewery 1398 Haight and Masonic at 3 pm. The SO, who had come down with a cold the night before, poor guy, opted for a therapeutic Out With The Old cask ale ($7). I tried the house-made draft root beer ($3) to complement my burger ($14 base price) with cheddar ($1) and Hobb’s applewood smoked bacon $(2) I should have passed on the bacon as it was VERY sweet, almost like it had been dipped in pancake syrup (I run into this relatively frequently when ingesting bacon on burgs in the US and may have to cease and desist). The burger was cooked perfectly to medium rare and was very juicy and LARGE but lacked the “beefy” flavour I crave. FWIW the SO had a chomp and felt the burger he ate at Monk’s Kettle on Saturday was much beefier. Nice touch was the sides of grainy mustard, ketchup and garlic mayo to add to the burger (or dip your fries in!). The fries at Magnolia were stellar, creamy inside, crispy outside and not too thick or thin. The root beer was also on the money, not too sweet and full of lovely herby notes without being medicinal tasting. We chatted with the brewer who made it which was fun. The SO enjoyed his beet and citrus salad ($11) though he did not feel it was terrifically special. Overall it seems like the level of food here is far above what you’d expect at an average pub but they are not reinventing the wheel, so the prices may feel a tad high. Good to note is this is a very convenient place to get to by bus and it’s a lovely, bright and not-too-loud room in the daytime at least. We grabbed a 43 up Masonic and then a 2 Clement back down to the FiDi.
Our final food was an airport snack for the SO: fresh frozen lemonade (3.75) and a cup of clam chowder (7.50) which came with a very decent bun at Yankee Pier Terminal 3.
Thanks again to everyone who contributed to another wonderful eating trip to the Bay Area!
Pix below: scone, kouign amann and cap at Four Barrel, sah tea beer, scramble, pork doughnuts and carnitas benedictas at Sycamore, Chac Mool trailer, tuna can sculpture and wall garden on patio, plus Corpse Reviver, Mission Burger and cross section at Mission Bowling Club, deep fried snacks at Radish, tacos, taquitos, torta and cross section, tacos, tacos, tacos, pineapple agua fresca showcasing fresh mango chunks in Redwood City
Glad you made it over to Lush! Today they had some interesting Cinco de Mayo themed flavors: a rum-horchata and a tequila with spicy chocolate chunks. Always something new to try -- the only drawback is you can never count on your favorites being available. It's like the opposite of Bi-Rite Creamery, where I'll pretty much order the same two or three flavors every time.
You remind me that I need to try Vientiane Cafe and get over to the Mission Bowling Club for that burger. No bowling for your party? =)
That was thanks to our Oakland Hound friends' brainwave when we were looking for a dessert to pair with the beer. I'm not a big ice cream person (often too rich pour moi) so I found the consistency of the Lush product pretty perfect. And no, we didn't bowl. It's actually pretty loud in there what with the pins going over and the victory whoops and all. The patio was perfect. And so was the burger.
Wow grayelf, wonderful report! glad i got to be a small part of this. i need to get back to that Mission Bowling Club burger, for sure.
SO's beet salad looks beautiful, albeit nothing exciting... and those fish dishes look awesome. ditto on the tacos. please don't tell me i need to get in my car and go all the way to RWC for good tacos!
I think this may be your most successfully delicious trip yet! high standard to beat, my friend...
I'm glad some of you are enjoying my report. Felt a bit sheepish posting such an opus but I didn't have time to make it shorter. Particularly kind of you to praise the pix, dunstable, as I worry I'm not presenting food in its best light using just a point and shoot.
I don't think it's necessary to go all the way to Redwood City to get good tacos. I'm really glad I did though as the feel of the place is quite different from the Mission or Fruitvale, the other two Mexi-meccas in the Bay Area I've been lucky enough to visit.