My Parents Visit to San Francisco - Full Report (Long)
My parents were in San Francisco last week, and as usual, we had some great meals. Here's a table of contents of the report, followed by the details.
Friday dinner: Hakka
Saturday breakfast: Alemany Farmer's Market, SF
Saturday lunch: Universal Bakery, SF
Saturday dinner: A Cote, Oakland
Saturday dessert: Scream, Oakland
Sunday brunch: BBQ at home
Sunday dinner: Café Zitouna, SF
Monday lunch: Spice Kit, SF
Monday dinner: Mandalay, SF
Monday dessert: Creations Dessert House, SF
Hakka – Outer Richmond, SF
For the first meal of the trip, the three of us ended up at Hakka. Arriving around 6:00 PM on Friday, there wasn't a wait for a table for 3. Two of the dishes we tried (Chinese bacon and tofu/fish claypot) were repeats for me, and both were as excellent as they were three months ago. Chinese bacon with preserved vegetables had tender pork, salty and savory preserved vegetables, and fresh cabbage. It's a big serving, and really an awesome dish. The fish and tofu in claypot was also great, with fried pieces of fish and crispy tofu pieces with almost-silken interiors. The sauce contains whole cloves of braised garlic. Sauteed pea pod stems with garlic were good—another huge portion. And the house special eggplant, made in a slightly sweet sauce with basil, was also excellent. Eggplant was soft without being too mushy, and the sauce wasn't overly sweet. Service was efficient and friendly, and this amount of food was way more than enough for the three of us.
Alemany Farmer's Market, SF
We started the morning off with pupusas from the stand that makes them fresh. I had a spinach and cheese pupusa, while others had meat and plain cheese. I think that vegetarian is the way to go here. I loved the combo of spinach and cheese, and the pupusa itself was great. The tomato sauce tasted different than I remembered it—a bit worse, unfortunately. It reminded me of straight tomato sauce from a can, with no real added flavor. Curtido was good. While at the market, we did a bunch of shopping, and sampled a lot of fruit. It's still a bit early for amazing peaches, though we did manage to find some. Also sampled various strawberry varieties before settling on one to add to our Sunday fruit salad.
Universal Bakery, La Lengua, SF
As part of my La Lengua project, we ate at Universal Bakery, which was great. I especially liked the paches, which are like a Guatemalan potato version of tamales. I wrote about it already here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/854371
A Cote, Rockridge, Oakland, SF
After considering many options, many mentioned in this thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/851852 , we settled on A Cote in Oakland. Before dinner, we had a nice time walking down College Ave, and peaking into different restaurants. Our reservation was on the early side, at 6:15, and the restaurant was pretty full by the time we were seated. I had a gin based cocktail that allegedly contained some cherry or some other red fruit, but all I really tasted was lemon and gin. It was fine. My dad had a good whiskey sour. We shared several items. Pommes frites were excellent, and were very fairly priced at $6 for a large portion. Mussels were also excellent, served in a garlicky sauce (with a touch of cream)—these came along with bread for dipping. Sadly, I thought the rest of the meal was nothing very special. Charcuterie plate had prosciutto, some broccolini and something else that I don't even remember. A flatbread w/ mushrooms was pretty boring and small for the price, and I didn't care for the texture of the crust. It was a bit too crispy and bready…which is usually my complaint about pizza/flatbreads that I make myself at home. When I go out, I'm looking for a better crust than this. Paella was heavy on the tomato, and not bad, but the seafood in it wasn't particularly interesting, and it was priced high for what it was. A side of Ranch Gordo beans was a bit unevenly cooked…some beans were soft, while others were hard, and the seasoning was very simple and a bit boring. If someone had handed me these same ingredients, I probably could have made it better. I thought service was a bit formal considering the overall vibe of the restaurant…but no real complaints. We decided against dessert.
Scream, Oakland, SF
After dinner at A Cote, we decided to walk to Scream, since it was a nice night. This was my first time at the Temescal shop, and I really liked it (though this sorbet isn't cheap!) I sampled the jasmine kombucha, which wasn't as strong tasting as I expected, as well as peach and apricot. All of us were initially excited about these two stone fruit flavors, but we all found them disappointing. I can't remember which was which, but one was sort of dull tasting (like the fruit wasn't that flavorful) and the other was too tart. I ended up with the strawberry rhubarb and the cucumber mint, which made for a nice color contrast. The strawberry rhubarb was fantastic – the sour rhubarb balanced the sweet strawberry perfectly, and the texture of the sorbet was smooth and creamy. Pretty much my ideal sorbet, texture-wise. Cucumber-mint was good as well, though the flavor gets tiring after a while. My dad had some sort of lemon flavor that I thought was pretty good too.
BBQ at home
We hosted a BBQ on Sunday, which was great. We grilled up some flank steak, as well as some Salvadoran chorizo that we bought at El Ahorro Produce on Mission Street. We made guacamole with great avocados from Casa Guadalupe, and bought tortillas (flour and corn) and tortilla chips from La Palma Mexicatessan on 24th Street. The tortillas from La Palma were great…on Sunday at around 11 we were able to buy still-warm corn tortillas (machine pressed), but it was the flour tortillas that were the star. They're thick, almost like a chapatti, and when we heated them up on the grill they puffed up and had a great chewy texture. I need to get these flour tortillas more often. We also made a huge fruit salad using fruit from Alemany, and some white peach sangria, and some fresh pico de gallo using heirloom tomatoes from the market. Honestly, this was probably the best meal of the weekend.
Café Zitouna, Polk Street
Even though we were still full from the BBQ, we went to Café Zitouna for dinner. I called and reserved one b'stilla on the phone, since they sometimes run out. The restaurant was quite busy on a Sunday evening, and we ended up with one shwarema wrap, one b'stilla, and one mixed salad plate (which includes a few salads). The salads were good, but one of them had tuna which I didn't really like. The sandwich was quite nice (and very large), with some spicy sauce inside…but the b'stilla was the star. Even my dad, who doesn't love the sweetness b'stilla, admitted that this was a good version, and my mom and I both loved it. Lots of shredded chicken on the inside, and warm nuts and cinnamon, inside a flaky crust. We had a bit leftover and it made for a great breakfast the next day.
Spice Kit, SOMA
I met my parents here for a quick lunch – it wasn't anything too special, but it's a fine place. I got a special meatball banh mi…the meatballs tasted a lot like Italian meatballs that I make with spaghetti. We also tried a rice bowl w/ the chicken, which I liked….the rice is spicy (like bi bim bap), which I never really realized. I might go for this next time I end up here.
Mandalay, Inner Richmond
Four of us had dinner here on Monday night, and it was also surprisingly busy. The balada (paratha) was kind of bland, but the curry sauce that came with it was great. I wish that the curry sauce also came with chicken….or that I could order a chicken dish in that curry sauce (maybe I can?) It's essentially the same flavors as Malaysian roti canai, which I love. Rainbow salad was pretty good, with a lot of random ingredients (including sunflower seeds). Dressing was sort of spicy, but not as potent as the Burmese Cold Noodles at Yamo in the Mission, which are similarly flavored. Shrimp curry wasn't my favorite…I thought the curry tasted too much like bottled red chili sauce…I much prefer the version of this red seafood curry at other Burmese places in town. Pork and pumpkin curry was served in a kabocha squash, and was quite nice. Tender pork, lots of pumpkin chunks, in a brown curry sauce. But the highlight of the meal was the Mandalay Special Noodles, which are really an awesome dish….coconut curry with kaffir lime leaf, crunchy noodles and soft noodles, fried shallots, pieces of chicken….really stunning. It was really because of this dish that we ate here, and it didn't disappoint. Overall, my mom thought this was the best meal of the weekend (besides the BBQ), and I think I was the only one at the table disappointed with the shrimp dish. I'll definitely return.
Creations Dessert House, Richmond District
We made a quick drive by to get some mango mochi…these were very fresh and the mango inside was super sweet! Now's definitely the season to buy these!
Overall, it was a great visit, and we once again ate a lot of great food. I hope my parents come back soon!
Agreed with the others, thanks for the great report! Just wanted to add that one of the aspects of food in Tunisia I recall from my visit there several years ago was that salads often came with tuna, and sometimes canned tuna even in restaurants right on the Mediterranean (not that there are many tuna left in that sea, but that is another discussion). An influence of the French Era there perhaps? (salade nicoise?)
I'd like a meatball bahn mi right about now!
Nice to hear that Zitouna's b'stilla is still good. The place is bare-bones, but that b'stilla is simply amazing for the price. Do they still use chopped pistachios instead of the cheaper walnuts that many places try to use instead?
I'm not fond of A Cote for the very reasons you list. A few dishes are good, but most are forgettable. SIbling Rumbo al Sur has the same strengths/weaknesses. Both have great service, but that's just not enough.
You might have enjoyed Nizza La Bella in Albany better. Great wood-fired pizza - the seafood pizza is amazing. Hearty French onion soup and an excellent steak salad.
I was there for Mandalay, Creations Dessert House and arrived late to steal scraps at Universal Bakery. My favorites at Mandalay were the special noodles and rainbow salad. Of the special noodles, I could have eaten two plates by myself, so after divvying up an order four ways, everyone was looking sort of lustfully at the small remaining scoopful of noodles on the plate. I also had a ginger lemonade that was good. I did not like the shrimp, which didn't have a lot of flavor; I think this was the only thing on my plate that I didn't finish.
Mango mochi! Awesome! Always! I am so glad we stopped for those. D's mom, who generally does not like this type of dessert (no mochi, no bean, no nothing) seemed to like these fine--I think because coconut is sprinkled both outside and inside the mochi ball, it cuts down on the chewiness (and sometimes gluey-ness) that I don't mind because I love mochi.
Great report, Dave! I am drooling over your description of the strawberry rhubarb sorbet at Scream, what a great combo that would be. Also wanted to thank pane for providing the detail about the coconut in the mango mochi at Creations. I've been kicking myself for missing it last visit, but now that I know it has coconut I can cool my jets since I only like coconut in savoury dishes. I'm going to have to try those noodles again at Mandalay because I didn't think they were that great when we tried them in November. Maybe we ordered the wrong dish?! Still my favourite rendition of laphet thoke so far so we'll be back for sure.