Belated report on May trip from replete Van Hound
Thanks to all who chimed in on my enquiry thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/899354
As usual, a long ramble, so I'll post it in a few chunks with pictures.
We arrived at SFO on time and grabbed a cab to Lers Ros. With only two of us, we kept it sane by ordering the #6 Nuer Tod or dried beef, the #26 Yum Pla Duk Foo and the #62A Kra Prow Moo Krob ALC, spicy, along with an order of jasmine rice and a Thai iced tea. All delicious as usual with the standouts being the dipping sauces and of course my favourite the catfish salad. All salads should be deep fried : -). Great first meal for $40 plus tip though we did have to wait for a table to open up despite having an 8:15 reservation.
We caught the T Muni out along Third to Piccino. Excellent coffee -- Sightglass roasts a Piccino espresso blend for them -- and a solid biscotto in this tiny place but alas they were jackhammering in the street just outside and the staff were cranking the volume on the tunes to try and drown it out so we didn't linger. Made our way over to Plow for their much-vaunted lemon-ricotta pancakes for brunch. Even on a weekday there was a bit of a wait.
It's a bit squeezy inside but quite convivial and we thoroughly enjoyed our plates, though there was too much food for two. I really didn't need to order the nine-grain English muffin either but I was curious and it was pretty good. J had The Plow ($15) and I went with the soft scramble ($16.50) which ostensibly had nettles in it. There was something green but I'm guessing spinach or the like. Tasty anyway and the eggs were nicely executed. I enjoyed the crispy potatoes a lot, and the SO was pleased with the house-made pork patty, especially as the server first told us they were out.
The star here is definitely those pancakes, however. They don't look fantastic, appearing burnt, but they are lemony light and ethereal as another Hound put it previously. They are also just sweet enough to eat plain which I did as I am not a fan of maple syrup (how unCanadian of me, I know). The lure of Mr and Mrs Miscellaneous was strong -- we shared a junior scoop ($2.75) of this ice cream. So far it is my favourite of the many recommended on this board. I tried brown butter (great flavour but a granular texture) and candied violet and limoncello but settled on sweet cream. This one is just the sweet ice-cream custard with no flavours added. I've only seen it on a menu in one other place in Toronto and was delighted to find it again. What a lovely storefront as well. This shop is going on my must try list (as I did again just over a day later!).
After a City Guides tour of Nob Hill and seeing the terracotta warriors, we snagged a cab over to Harrow for happy hour. Plates of crunchy Marcona almonds, plump castelvetrano olives and blistered shishito peppers ($3 each) soon surrounded my lovely glass of vermentino ($6) and the SO's pint of Almanac's Honey Saison ($4.60). One of the owners, Jane, was present and remembered us from our last visit. Harrow is my idea of a perfect happy hour spot. I wish they were open for HH all week instead of just Wed-Fri 5 to 6:30.
We wandered up the hill to Cotogna for a 7:30 reservation which I'd scored just by asking when they called to confirm our original 8:30 time a few days before. We decided to share a few small plates and a pasta which was perfect and quite filling. The spinach sformato hit the spot for me but the SO found it too salty ($12). An octopus appetizer ($16) was perfectly cooked and well balanced. They seem to really know their way around octopods here. Then the gnocchi, ah the gnocchi ($17). Even the SO was transported, and he is a notorious disser of things gnocchi, mostly on textural grounds. These ones were little clouds of semolina, really melt in the mouth, but also substantial, somehow.
The one disappointment was the side of cauliflower ($7) which sounded wonderful on the menu but came out a bit scorched and inundated with very sweet currants. Not inedible but definitely off. I wonder if the chef tasted them at all. I'm glad to have had dinner at Cotogna after our two previous lunches but it has told me that I prefer to dine there during the day. The room lends itself to the daytime, and it is a bit quieter as well. Also need to make sure we come with another Hound as we have in the past so as to snag the primo three-top on the end. The tables along the window are otherwise awfully close together, allowing us a wee bit too much insight into the conversations going on either side of us :-).
Friday morning's goal was Flour and Co, just a six-block walk from the hotel. This shop would be a fine place to sit for a spell (but no wifi, alas) as they have a reasonable number of tables. I snagged a slice of egg pie (kinda like that they don't call it quiche) and a breakfast sando to go. Wish I'd noticed the savoury oatmeal on the menu before I ordered... next time! We moseyed another block or so to Contraband to get the SO's cappuccino fix (we eschewed the Stumptown on offer at F&C in favour of a local roast). Unfortunately he also ordered a very meh cinnamon rolly thingy before I could intercede -- I'm officially giving up on the baked goods from Contraband after half a dozen tries. The Flour and Co. offerings were both worthy, however.
Next stop was SFMOMA for a farewell visit before they close up shop for renovations. Nothing like modern art to stimulate one's appetite for corned beef. The Sentinel came through with an even bigger sandwich than I remembered -- we split one and it was plenty. They'd changed the bread to a lovely focaccia since last time. The only quibble was the cabbage which though plentiful and crunchy was rather bland. The beef was spot on, just salty and lean enough.
After a visit to the De Young to see The Girl With a Pearl Earring, we headed back to Aardvark Books, stopping in at La Fajita for a fish taco (I'd read they were worthy but not on CH). Less said the better. Also stopped at The Lookout for a draft (Speakeasy Prohibition, very nice and a beautiful colour) and a couple of pulled pork tacos which were quite decent, enjoyed alongside a local denizen with the most beautiful candyfloss pink beehive.
That evening was La Ciccia with a local Hound and her SO. It had been a couple of years since we were in but Lorella was so welcoming. The room was full but not squeezy. Service was impeccable as usual. No photos as they ask not on the menu.
We shared the spicy tomato octopus stew and the prosciutto di Parma for appetizers. The broth in the stew was addictive and not a drop was left, and of course the prosciutto was like butter. Next up was a duo of starches, rather famous here, the spaghetti with bottarga and the fregola with shaved tuna heart and sea urchin. Both were topnotch, with a slight edge to the spaghetti for me. I couldn't detect the uni in the fregola but that may have just been my jaded palate. We all agreed that sharing was a good way to try these rich dishes.
For mains we split the lamb and the prawns, which again came with the most amazing sauce, this time with capers and Swiss chard. The lamb was a tad disappointing as it was a little plain without any sauce. The sauces at La Ciccia really sing. We also enjoyed a very nice Sardinian white, one of the vermentinos I believe, that the server picked for us. We ordered just the right amount of food for once -- on past visits I have required a palanquin to move from my seat.
Our DCs kindly catered to my mildly insane urge to check out Creations Dessert House and ferried us all over to Geary and 16th. The room was busy but we were seated immediately and soon realized that our table was the oldest by several decades and also the only one with non-Asians. The servers were incredibly forthcoming, perhaps thinking we had wandered in by accident and wanting us to have a nice time. We enjoyed the house lychee tea so much that I murmured something about seeing if it was for sale and voila, my friend had secured a tub of it for me! I open it daily to sniff and remember our visit.
My target dish for the night was mango mochi with mango ice cream and fresh mangos, recommended by Calgary CH missfoodie, and it did not disappoint. One of us got a very cool layered beverage with "snow" and various other tasties in it, and her SO tried the mango pudding with fresh fruit which was the weakest of the three. The SO enjoyed a milk tea. I was surprised by the lack of sweetness in the three desserts, though I suppose I shouldn't have been.
Photos from left to right: nuer tod and catfish salad at Lers Ros, Piccino storefront plus capp and biscotto, Plow counter and two dishes, shisito peppers at Harrow, octopus at Cotogna
Re the cauliflower at Cotogna, roasting brassicas until singed seems to be a fad around here. I've had some that looked burned but tasted good, so maybe the chef didn't realize that it had gone too far.
We had two newish coffee places in our sights Saturday. First we stopped in to the bricks-and-mortar Reveille, which is beautifully situated in the flat-iron building at Columbus and Kearny. The cafe is cleverly laid out, inviting to sit for a spell and might only be improved by the addition of wifi. Although we enjoyed the breakfast offerings very much (lovely granola with fruit compote for the SO and a thick slab of Della Fattoria levain toast with a nicely fried egg and lashings of fresh avocado for me, $5.50), the Four Barrel cappuccino was deemed a little weak. Still a good bet in the immediate area for espresso based drinks.
Time for a North Beach stroll! We made it as far as Beacon Coffee and when the SO discovered they were serving his favourite Sightglass roast, Owl's Howl, his fate was sealed. They did a very competent job here. It is an airy and again quite welcoming cafe serving fare from the Artisan Bakery in Sonoma and using Straus milk. One of the baristas was whipping up his own mimosas behind the counter. Bet he thought no one could see him :-).
All that walking meant it was time for some carbs, specifically sharing a pizza at BaoNecci with the Oakland Hounds. It was as toothsome as ever, and the room just as comfortable. Our waiter was a bit surprised that we were sharing just one pie till we explained that this was only "first lunch." Next stop was Naked Lunch for the ballyhooed burger and a fried chicken sando. The burger was pretty much everything a burger should be, no bells and whistles, just meaty, cheesy goodness. The chicken offering was rather less successful, verging on meh. We also shared a seasonal salad that was fresh and light. The coffee cup of fries was spot on and just the right amount. And the bottomless sweet tea was delightful, with strong cinnamon notes. We were lucky to be able to sit outside on the patio as the interior is a tad dark and the music a loud for us.
Our next goal was the Speakeasy brewpub, which is rather a long way out there so we were very grateful to our vehicled guides. This place is set up to look like (duh) an old-time speakeasy, complete with a panic button on the wall for raids. There is one table at the front that gets sun on it so we nabbed that for picture taking purposes (and because, after all, we came south seeking light on our vacation). They serve 4 oz taster pours of all their draft beers so we picked a selection and got stuck in. Unfortunately because of the incompetence of one of the servers, we didn't get one of our choices and then it ran out (plus she put our order through on a credit card even though we had ascertained that we could use it to hold the tab and pay cash, grr). But there were others to sample so all was well. The most unusual was a smoked beer which we were all glad to try in a small dose. Good fun to head over here for afternoon brews, and it was close to where we were dropping the SO to meet his brother.
Next stop, Oaktown! Well, the route entailed passing dangerously close to Mr and Mrs Miscellaneous and sure enough, we found ourselves drawn in by the siren call. The line this time was quite long but I didn't mind at all as it moved quickly despite the servers allowing guests to sample as many flavours as they fancied. I homed in on the sweet cream again (sigh!) while my partners in crime sampled several others.
We took 'em to go and feasted in the rush hour traffic on the Bay Bridge which was actually not bad at all. We stopped at an excellent shoe store and had a peek into the then-closed Cheeseboard, noting the long line of pizza worshippers before making a beeline for Miss Ollie's. As it was a Saturday night, the joint was jumping and we opted to perch at the bar as the plan was one dish and away. Ha! We got a cocktail and a sorrel juice, then ordered the pickle plate and the chicken. That took a little while to come (not that I noticed) so the 'tender refilled my juice gratis which was a nice touch. Then we saw our neighbour's plate of bul jol and that had to be ordered, and we had to try his pulled pork as well. The food is great, the prices are more than reasonable and the entire staff is delightful. Go and go again, since I can't till November!
We reluctantly relinquished our seats to others after thoroughly enjoying this rather substantial first dinner and zipped quickly out to Vientiane. I proceeded to make a pig of myself by ordering the nam khao (hello, old friend), the pickled pork sausage, the Lao sausage, and the steamed fish, even though I knew my DCs were pretty full and unlikely to help out much. None of these dishes is going to win a beauty contest (especially the fish) but they are so packed with flavour it just doesn't matter. I ate till I could eat no more and then convinced my friends to take the leftovers home to assuage my guilt for overordering. I read on CH that the prices have gone up but if so they still seem very economical to me. As always, the service was prompt, solicitous and so warm. If I had a transporter beam, Vientiane would be in Kitsilano. Now.
Meanwhile the SO and his brother were in the Mission having a brew at Monk's Kettle and then scoping out the too-long line at Pizzeria Delfina before proceeding to Hi Lo for giant plates of brisket. A coffee at Ritual was followed by a Deschutes Armory IPA at (where else?) the Armoury.
Wrecking Ball was on the slate for Sunday morning. We'd been there in November and had wonderful Ethiopian pourovers so wanted to see if all was still good and it was. They'd added baked treats from Marla's and the cheese turnover I had was a thing of beauty and deliciousness. The SO's biscotti was pronounced worthy if a bit too sweet. The cappuccino was so good he got a macchiato as well. I was so sad to read that they closed up shop less than a week later. I'll be keeping an eye peeled for where they land next and wish them all the best.
We had a little wander around the neighbourhood after, discovering some non-politically correct candies at the specialty shop on the corner [see photo]. Then it was off to Gioia for our 11 am reservation. I had my eye on the burger which had been recommended by a Board denizen but it turned out to be the spring salad that impressed us. It was beautifully dressed and had a perfect selection of seasonal raw veggies, plus some flowers. The burger was a bit bland and my half had such a large piece of gristle in it that it rather put me off. The shoestring fries were a bit dull too. So not a huge success, but still better than the burgers we can get at home :-(.
The SO was meeting his brother for a Giants game (go Giants!) so we parted ways and I headed out for some retail therapy before meeting up with another redoubtable Hound at Mission Bowling Club, for a burger. We realized that we have only ever been there with each other so I guess that makes it "our" place, LOL. We were sucked in by the cute plating of the fried chicken here which we saw at another table but it was disappointing, especially after Miss Ollie's exemplary version the day before. And it was dangerous to my newly acquired jeans, as the oil pooled on the rimless square plate and dripped onto my knee! Bleh. The burger, however, was as triumphant as ever. God, I love that sandwich. Again, if I had a transporter beam...
We walked along Valencia, nabbing some choc bars at Dandelion for my family and ducking in to Craftsmen and Wolves for some white shoyu chocolate caramels (which I'm sorry to say didn't do it for me as I'm not crazy about chocolate in caramel; I did enjoy the almond yuzu ones though I would have preferred them without the nuts, and I found both versions overly soft and oily).
We had a six pm reservation at Kronnerburger but it was not to be. When we arrived, the SO and half a dozen others were waiting outside a dark storefront. I found out later there had been a plumbing disaster earlier in the day and they had in fact contacted those with reservations, but I felt bad for the walk ins. Seems like they coulda put a message on their phone, or even on the door....
Our DC saved the day by suggesting Laszlo Bar down the street. Turns out they have some drinks on special from 3 to 6 daily, including a $3 draft pint, and the entire menu from Foreign Cinema on tap as well. We tried the excellent (but kinda lamely named) Body Heat, which had Tito's jalapeno-infused vodka, fresh lime and cointreau. For snacks, we ordered the five-spice duck crackling ($5), the brandade gratin of blended salt cod, potatoes, garlic, green chiles and panini toast ($13), the natural beef carpaccio with tarragon sauce vert, vinegar, sea salt Andy caps (matchstick potato chips when they're at home), crema and watercress ($14) and the crisp Berkshire pork belly slow cooked with tomato chutney and Savoy cabbage (missed the price) -- note the menu online has been updated so it is not the same as what we had.
The Oakland Hounds joined us for some of the nosh and a beverage, then we headed to our reservation at Bar Crudo. After securing a Lunatic Lager for the SO and a glass of white for one of our DCs, the weird service started. It seemed like anyone who approached our table couldn't get away from it fast enough. We could barely get our food order out before the server was away, and each plate was dumped unceremoniously and without any comment, leaving us to figure out what we were eating. The capper was my plate being whisked away so brusquely that I ended up with saucy prawn shells in my lap. Not cool. Usually bad service doesn't bug me too much but at this price and in this upscale an establishment, I expect better.
What did we eat? We got the crudo sampler for two and had a bite each of butterfish, arctic char, yellowtail and scallop for $28. I predictably liked the yellowtail the best but vastly preferred the raw fish preps we would have the next day at Skool -- they were fresher tasting, bigger and less expensive. They were out of the squid salad but since it had seasonal stuff we can't easily get at home, I asked if we could just get the greens and they complied. The combo of fava beans/leaves and pea leaves with Meyer lemon vinaigrette was worthy. The lobster beet salad was less successful, but that'll learn me for ordering lobster on the left coast, I guess. It was kinda rubbery and lacking in taste, overpowered easily by the beets. The burrata in it was nice but overall not worth $18.
They were also out of the seared butterfish main so we went with the whole roasted bass ($28), the red Idaho trout, and the head on Louisiana prawns ($15). All three were well executed and tasty, though the major kick of the prawns came from good ol' Crystal hot sauce. A good not great meal in stellar company, sadly marred by inept and unprofessional servers. I'm not sure I'd rush back.
breaky at Reveille, pizza at BaoNecci, sweet tea, fry cup, burger at Naked Lunch, Mr and Mrs Miscellaneous offerings, pickle plate and bul jol from Miss Ollie's, pickled pork and sai oua sausages plus nam khao and fish from Vientiane
On Monday, we headed down to Coffee Bar in the FiDi where I had my first of two Starter kouign amanns, woot! Also tried a Five Mountains roiboos tea that was just okay. Note to self: not the most relaxing place to start the day.
We soldiered on to the newish Heyday and found a calm haven, despite the beehive of catering activity in the open kitchen. We also found oatmeal with lots of tasty toppings to add, a delicious hibiscus ginger drink, Harnes Brothers pomegranate oolong tea (!) and more Starter baked goods. I couldn't resist (huge shock) and tucked in to my second KA in less than an hour. Note that while Heyday does serve Mr Espresso coffee, they don't do espresso based drinks. I'd definitely return, perhaps to check out their lunch offerings which looked attractively edible as they were being boxed up for lucky local office workers. Salads intrigued particularly.
We lingered a bit doing crosswords and enjoying the sun filtering in, then walked over to California and Drumm to catch the #1 out to Mandalay and our lunch date with another Hound. We shared several dishes, including a new-to-all-of-us light and brothy fish soup (jia san hinga) that was very good indeed. We also tried the samusa salad which was a big hit, with various crunchy bits and lots of umami. A shrimp and sourleaf curryish dish called chin mong jaw caught our eye as well and while tasty was a bit sweet for me. We went with the balada as a starch which was a little greasy this time. The tea leaf salad came last for some reason but was as good as I remember. Our DC recalled they had excellent house-made hot sauce and that added a little extra kick as well. The Burmese tea hit the spot on a slightly chilly day. This repast came to $62 before tip, and a little went home with our dining companion after she kindly dropped us off in front of the Academy of Sciences.
After three hours of science and more science, it was time for a snack and beverage. We headed to Abbott's Cellar but the vibe didn't appeal so the SO requested a return visit to Monk's Kettle. It was very busy but we soon got a couple of seats at the bar and ordered pickles (just okay, and I think it's safe to say I do not enjoy pickled grapes) and an oustanding pretzel with cheese fondue and mustard washed down by a Stone Pale Ale from Escondido, CA. We headed over to Skool for our 7:30 reservation. I had signed up for their email notifications and the first thing they sent me was a free appetizer coupon which was a nice surprise.
I couldn't decide between a Sansho Stiles and an Up The Street, but our server recommended the former and said she would bring me a new drink if I didn't like it, making it a no brainer. The SS had tequila blanca, Le Peche, lemon juice, cilantro and a sansho pepper spiced rim. It was perfect with our meal. The SO selected a Liberty Pale Ale from the list of drafts.
We shared small plates, including two crudos of mackerel and kampachi, both beautifully plated, fresh as spring and delightful, pan fried shishito with bonito flakes (we both preferred them with a bit of Maldon salt which I just happened to have a packet of in my purse), a beef tartare and the piece de resistance, the uni flan, which the SO deemed his favourite dish of the trip. This meal was excellent with top notch service (in stark contrast to the night before at Bar Crudo). I would return to Skool for more education in things fishy. We eyed the dessert menu but the SO had a craving for ice cream so we nabbed a bus back to the Castro and hit the Super Duper on Market.
It was hopping in there at 10 pm on a Monday night. I was delighted to discover they had mini versions of their burgers so tucked into one and found it very good, particularly given the price and the "fast food" nature of the establishment. The soft serve was tasty though a bit less creamy than I like. I believe they use Straus milk. I again appreciated the option to order a tiny cone. The SO went for the regular size with a chocolate dip.
Blue Bottle Mint Plaza called to us on Tuesday morning and we responded. The usual 20 minute lineup, sigh. A nice granola and yogurt for the SO, a deliciously rich benny with a corn bread substitution done without any attitude for me, and my beloved New Orleans iced coffee to wash it down was the reward. High calorie bliss.
Since it turned out to be a gorgeous day, we decided to head back out to Golden Gate Park to see the butterflies in the conservatory. It was so hot and steamy in there it actually affected my camera but I did manage to get this gorgeous hibiscus -- almost looks good enough to eat, doesn't it? [see photo]
And speaking of eating, it was lunch time and a jaunt to La Ciudad de Mexico taqueria was in order. I'd heard a couple of good reports, it was nearby and we were craving some antojitos.
Most of their business is takeaway but the sun allowed us to enjoy our fare at one of three wee tables outside. The torta was not quite up to Los Picudos standards but was very tasty and luckily came in a small(er) version. Our four tacos and one quesadilla with huitlacoche (mmm, corn smut!) were equally good if not great. And the price was very right. I hope they do well here. The continued sun drew us back to the park and a revisit of the botanical gardens at Strybing Arboretum which happened to be free that day (it is every second Tuesday IIRC).
But garden viewing is thirsty work, and it was soon time for happy hour at Social Kitchen Brewery. I had a marvelous well drink, sort of a Gimlet, with cucumber and gin in it for $6, while the SO sampled a Mr Kites Pale Ale and a Waterfront Porter. We also tried the Brussels sprouts chips and the tempura yam fries, which were great with the beverages. The beer is not tip top but this place is lovely and light, with skylights and lots of wood and great service.
We arrived for our SPQR dinner to a bit of FOH chaos and ended up waiting outside a stretch after our reservation time. Once settled, we ordered three apps, three mains and a dessert, along with a carafe of red for the three imbibers. The duck pate was delicious, the burrata with spring vegetables pristine and seasonal, the sformato light and frothy. The risotto and the fettucine were both very tasty if perhaps not terribly original. The arctic char main was the most successful of the mains.
Our server was stellar, and the room is nice if a bit cramped. The food was uneven, ranging from excellent starters to solid pasta dishes to a couple of failures on the mains, and one well-executed dessert in the bombolini. In two cases, the proteins (quail and pork) were overcooked to the point of dryness, with undercooked lentils not helping matters, kind of unforgivable at this type of restaurant and for the price. We alerted the server who offered some free pours of dessert wine to three of us and an extra dessert. In addition to the topnotch company, the server frankly saved this meal for me. I would consider returning because of him and the earlier courses but I'm not rushing back.
Since we were headed out to Divis to check out the newish b. patisserie bricks and mortar, I proposed a stop at The Mill afterward to see how the buildout had turned out. Belinda Leong has found a comfortable home on California in a casual slightly Frenchified locale which smells heavenly from the on-going baking. The displays are attractive as well, making a choice difficult but we settled on a kugeloph, a scone and a plain kouign amann (natch). For me the winner was the KA because it was still warm from the oven but all three were well executed. The SO's cappuccino was well made. As is often the case, I wished there were savoury pastries on offer, apart from quiche.
The Mill is much more hipster but also welcoming, despite its relative cavernousness (is that a word?). We had fond memories of Josey Baker serving us his mad-genius breads of the day toasted under the tent back in November, and obviously that is no longer happening. He was not there, and the toast options were pretty staid, so I went for a cheese and pepper muffin which was very moreish. The Four Barrel capp was done well.
Next stop, Exploratorium. We had been told there was good sushi to be had at Seagrass and indeed the beautiful tuna sashimi and octopus salad was solid if somewhat overpriced. That said, for a museum cafeteria, the quality of food here seems high. We also tried the miso soup, a delicious black quinoa salad and an order of the tempura green beans. The Exploratorium was fun but very similar in content to when we went several years ago.
We were a bit peckish and ended up stopping at Piperade for a snack on a whim as I recalled reading good things about this Basque restaurant. I don't think they were really prepared to serve at this time as the dishes took forever to come. The warm sheeps' milk cheese and ham terrine was way over-salted and the crudo tasted like it had bad commercial hot sauce on it that overwhelmed the flavour of the raw beef. I would not return based on these two dishes, especially at the price.
We walked back which took less time than I thought it would and made the appropriate BART with a few minutes to spare. Ebisu and Lorie's at SFO were workmanlike. Thus endeth another wonderful eating trip to the Bay Area.
I'm glad you made it to Mr & Mrs Misc. It is our favorite SF ice cream shop. They even make my daughter a candied violet ice cream birthday cake.
On Plow, although I agree that the pancakes are excellent, the fried potatoes are always the star of the show for me. I don't think that I have ever had better.
Thank you so much for this trip report. I am taking notes especially on your breakfasts/morning coffee as we are staying in the same area.