Reporting back on our 13th trip to the Bay Area
- grayelf Dec 1, 2013 09:06 AM
Thanks as always to the redoubtable Hounds who supplied tips on my inquiry thread here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/921229
Buckle up for an even-more-long-winded-than-usual report on our recent week in SF and environs :-). I've put it up in a bunch of separate posts to make playing along a bit less painful.
Old favourite Blue Bottle Mint Plaza was our first stop to share the piquillo pepper polenta and Prather Ranch hot Italian sausage with County Line baby greens plus a New Orleans iced coffee and a cappuccino. The Del Popolo pizza truck was setting up in the square.
We met up with rwcfoodie and charliemyboy at Elmira Rosticerria to try their porchetta and lampredotto sandwiches for lunch. We also had an order of the Mary's chicken. We all thought the porchetta was a winner, but the lampredotto was a bit of a disappointment, a little bland and shortly dubbed a gateway tripe dish :-). The chicken didn't really blow me away but it was tasty. We all liked the potatoes a lot, and two of us thought the brussels sprouts were underdone. The place is very busy, with waves of people coming at noon and 1 pm.
We hit the Philz nearby for coffees and kouign amann. Shoulda asked for half sweet on my mojito coffee but so tasty. This is a nice bright cafe with different seating areas.
Walked back to Union Square by way of Hooker's Sweet Treats, where I picked up a sample of each of their housemade toffees -- I liked the plain salted caramel the best upon testing at home ;-).
That afternoon, it was back to Skool for happy hour. I'd been thinking about their uni flan since we had it in May at dinner, and it was just as good this time. We also had wonderful Dungeness and caviar devilled eggs and pan-fried shisito peppers, along with a beer and an Up the Street cocktail, which wasn't quite as tasty as the Sansho Stiles I had last visit. One of the peppers was the hottest thing the SO had ever eaten!
Over to Kronnerburger to meet up with mariacarmen. We tried the burger (two actually, as the server misunderstood and brought two) and a patty melt, plus the wedge salad and onion rings with Calabrian chili aioli. The salad was very good, with lovely lardons and the perfect amount of creamy blue cheesy dressing. The onion rings were the sine qua non of deep fried sweet oniony goodness, so light (rice flour batter) and perfectly cooked. I liked but didn't love the burger, and thought the taste I had of the patty melt was just okay. The SO really enjoyed his burger, which wasn't too large, noting in particular the freshness of the trimmings.
After dinner we headed over to Lazlo to revisit the delicious spicy cocktail there. The SO had a Grimbergen Dubbel brown ale, and we were positively surprised to find a live combo playing. This is a great little bar. We BARTed back home after.
Pix: del Popolo truck, the lampredotto, porchetta and chicken at Elmira, ka and mojito coffee at Philz
Friday was the day we went to the Outer Sunset, twice :-). cynsa picked us up and we got into Trouble... the cafe, that is. It's pretty funky, and there's not a lot of interior seating, but they're making some nice hot beverages. The SO had a cappuccino and a scone, while I sampled their excellent Buckeye ($4), which is steamed milk with honey and vanilla, and listed under "I do not drink coffee." Cynsa and I tried their two toasts, one with cinnamon sugar and butter, the other with peanut butter and honey. I liked the latter best but both were outstanding examples of the toast genre, and worth the trip.
Pal's Takeaway was in our sights for lunch, having checked online to ensure they were open AND had our target sando, Aunt Malai's Lao sausage sandwich. This is one heckuva sandwich, enough for two people at $10. The Acme roll is top notch, the filling is deliciously spicy and lemongrassy and the condiments are fresh and bright. It deserves its place on top sandos in SF lists. We had the sausage again at Vientian a few days later, sigh.
Lunch number two was at Linea Caffe. The SO snagged an excellent cappuccino, served in a Heath cup no less, while I picked up a quinoa salad with arugula, roasted eggplant, Castlevetrano olives, edamame, sunflowers and lemon zest ($10) to share which they said replaced the slow-selling pasta one. This was a hearty salad, well balanced and moreish.[pix]I might only quibble that it was a hair overdressed. We sat outside at one of the bistro tables enjoying the sunshine until the SO's phone rang with the news that he would have to work all weekend and Monday :-(.
Off to Valencia to stroll and check out a few of our favourite stores, enjoying the samples at Dandelion Chocolate. Then we bussed over to the newly opened Cellarmaker Brewers to sample some brews. There was Bowie on the stereo and the room was spare but welcoming. I didn't love their Petit Sour but the other beers we tried were tasty, if a bit lighter than what we're used to in the PNW.
No snacks here but they have menus you can order in from, and a food truck in the evening.
Next stop, the also newish Blueprint Taproom, where I switched to non-alcoholic, trying the Half and Half from Honest iced tea and the SO quaffed the Black Robusto Porter from Drake's Brewing in San Leandro. We ordered the Kennebeck fries and the crispy black eyed peas with Old Bay seasoning and thyme (normally $5 each but happy hour priced).
For dinner we trekked to the Outer Sunset again, arriving at Outerlands 15 minutes early as I got the Muni times confused. Not a bad trip at all, and they seated us right away. Had to try the levain toast with butter ($4) which was a good call as it was a) delicious and b) a great conduit for the various sauces to come. We opted to share a mushroom main as our starter, then the SO followed up with the octopus starter while I indulged in the fish main.
The meal suffered a bit from having one item in each dish that didn't seem to complement the other elements. In the mushroom dish, there was a sweet berry sauce that I think was supposed to counteract the bitterness of the radicchio but was just weird (didn't help that it looked like a massacre had happened on the plate). The octopus appetizer had roasted green grapes in it, which added an unnecessary sweetish note. The Black Alaska cod stew did not benefit from the five chunks of sundried tomatoes floating in it. And finally the pannacotta had pomegranate seeds in it, presumably for contrast but I didn't get it. So we just avoided those items, as everything else was solid to excellent, especially the monkey bread dessert which I see is still on the menu.
We had lovely service in the rustic but comfortable room, and were able to nip out just in time to catch the Muni back without waiting at all. I'd return, possibly to try the brunch.
Pix: toast and interior at Trouble, Aunt Malai's and interior at Pal's, capp and salad at Linea, beverages and snacks at Blueprint, fish stew and monkey bread at Outerlands
The next morning, we opted for Blue Bottle Mint Plaza again as the SO had to return to the office. We repeated the same polenta dish plus got a poached egg on toast special.
I met up with the Oakland Hounds and we tackled Fruitvale, starting at Jalisco Cafe (17th and International) for solid carnitas. Next was the Sinaloa taco cart (rear one; there are two plus a dine in area) for tasty fish tacos -- good pickled peppers but be sure to ask for the green sauce and on the side.
Then we went to La Torta Loca for a cactus huarache which was just okay and would have been better without the cheese. And then, the piece de resistance at La Gran Chiquita for the moronga of my dreams [pic] and a generous free sample of the birria, which came with consomme, and pancita or estomago. The only weak spot was the jamaica, which was, well, weak. The staff here are so super welcoming.
We wrapped up with helados at Nieves Cinco de Mayo -- I got chongos zamoranos which I haven't had in thirty years at least.
Some retail therapy worked up a thirst for drinks at the Tribune Tavern, and we felt it our duty to try the burger as well. Sadly it came way overcooked to the point where we sent it back. The replacement was almost undercooked, so not the best experience. Drinks were tasty if not inspired. Not sure I'd rush back, what with the noise level.
Next stop, Burmese in Berkeley! We had a fair-sized group of keen Hounds and covered a good chunk of the menu at Rangoon Superstars. I liked the tea leaf salad with larger chunks of tea leaf and the lettuce on the side as requested. Okra and hard boiled egg curry was good but not quite as tasty as the one at Little Yangon, shrimp and onion dish with a name like kibat, Burmese tofu good but not quite as good as Denis' at Burmese Kitchen, v. tasty balada (we got another with white sugar on the side for dessert), mohinga, Burmese pork stew. It's a very pleasant room with eager service, despite a couple of minor hitches that were corrected. I hope it survives and thrives in a place that I understand has a history of high turnover.
On Sunday morning, a disappointing brunch at Aliment (sloppy eggs with bland stringy short ribs for $18, boring mushroom tortilla with a lame brownedged salad and weakass coffee) -- there are still no good breaky places in the FiDi that are open on the weekends :-(. Maybe the new Beanstalk Cafe at 724 Bush which was set to open Nov 15 will break the bad streak?
I hopped on BART and met the Oakland Hounds on my own again as the SO had to work. Southey helped wash that bad brunch right outta my hair with their excellent chilaquiles. This was the best chips-dipped-in-salsa-verde version I've had, with my only small complaint being the hard fry on the whites of the eggs (yolks were perfect). [pic] We did a bit of shopping and then it was time to head over to Hopscotch to meet mariacarmen. This is a cute little bar-cum-restaurant, and the menu is quite inviting. We had kind of a ditzy server but she meant well.
Two oysters with sea urchin, salmon roe and citrus soy were smacked over, as was chicken liver on toast ($2). There were shisito peppers ($2), always good. Then we shared the buttermilk fried chicken, a very large portion for $17. It had lovely crispy coating and was cooked to a perfect juiciness; there was something in the marinade permeating the meat that I didn't love, but I was strictly in the minority. The First Base Burger ($14) with house ground chuck, griddled beef tongue, pickled onions, sesame aioli and optional cheese, to which we added duck fat chips for $2 more, was another story.
This was a burger. Great beefy taste and juicy without being drippy, despite appearing to be more than medium rare. [add pic of chix and burg together] Seriously craveable. For drinks, we tried the Aunt Delilah ($10) with gin, house grenadine, lemon and lime bitters, plus White Pumps ($9), reposado tequila, aperol, gran clasico and lemon, plus a Corpse Reviver ($10). The White Pumps and the Corpse Reviver were well executed, the Aunt D less so.
But the best cocktail of the trip for me has to go to Make Westing's Garden Gimlet (gin, cucumber, basil, lime) which was just ridiculously tasty and well balanced and at $7 a bargain. [add pic] Their house cocktails all sound attractive: http://makewesting.com/menu/ It was relatively quiet when we arrived and we snagged a nice roomy table to enjoy our beverages and the house popcorn which ostensibly was infused with habanero and cilantro, lime Butter, Aleppo and cotija. It was very good but I couldn't taste cilantro or cotija.
Over to Vientiane for some favourites including the Lao sausage, the steamed fish, the quail, and of course the nem khao. All wonderful, as usual. I took an order each to go of the sausage and nem khao for my poor SO who worked all day and into the night.
Pix: Blue Bottle Mint Plaza interior and breaky, fish taco, huarache, moronga, birria and two shots of the helado, because I goofed!
Monday morning I wandered down to the newish Coffee Cultures. A ham and cheese croissant and an excellent mocha with just the right amount of sweetness went down very well as I stopped in to visit the SO at his new office digs.
Met cynsa at Sweet Maple where we split the mid rare burger and the special eggs benny with their signature millionnaire's bacon (we got the last order of the day, woot!). Both were solid, and the two different types of spuds were outstanding. This is a great comfort foody place with friendly and helpful service. It does get rather loud when full as it was on this holiday Monday but we sat at the bar over on the side and it wasn't a huge problem. I'd return for sure.
Next up was more shoe shopping, very successful with two pairs of boots for me! The SO was finally done with work so we picked him up and hit Ritual in the Mission for a one and one, a cappuccino and a pourover, all topnotch. We also shared the hazelnut kouign amann I had nabbed earlier at Coffee Bar. So many people working on laptops here...
The SO and I headed over to Trick Dog for a bit of a disappointing happy hour. After all the raves online, I was expecting a bit more from both the cocktails and food. Not terrible but I wouldn't rush back. Service was also rather odd.
Next stop was St Vincent. We had kept the reservation despite some sage hounds' concerns that it might be too wine-centric, and I'm glad we did. The beer list is pretty good here; the SO tried a 1903 pre-Prohibition lager (8 oz $4.50) from Craftsman Brewing in Pasadena and a Twist of Fate from Moonlight (8 oz $3.50). I had a Cellario Piemonte moscato ($10) which was very nice if a bit too sweet. The spaghetti carbonara ($13), uni toast ($14), and rockfish ($24) were all good to excellent, if plated a bit amateurishly. The spaghetti was especially toothsome.
Pix: benny and burg at Sweet Maple, beverages at Ritual, spaghetti, toast and fish at St Vincent's
Tuesday morning we wended our way over to Saint Frank on Polk. Lovely clean minimalist place with the espresso machines sunk into the counter.
Excellent pastries from Marla and Le Marais , but not the most comfortable stools. The SO thought his coffee was good but not life altering. I liked my pourover very well.
Checked out Denis Leary's venture at Cafe Terminus. We were underwhelmed with the Cuban sandwich and chicken salad we had, sadly. Both were lacking a bit in flavour. It's also too bad they can't serve alcohol till 2 pm.
Quick wander around the Ferry Building where the Tuesday market was just winding up and we got to ogle the Heath ceramics that we saw in use earlier at Linea, who I hope is getting a volume discount : -). Nabbed a filled donut "cannoli" from a stand that had them on for $1. Then we wandered up to Reveille to grab an iced coffee and a cappuccino and sit outside as it was warm again. The beverages were very good, "cannoli" just okay.
We continued on through North Beach along Grant, stopping to peep into Spec's Twelve Adler Museum Cafe and for a chat with the 'tender at Church Key who is starting a pop up there. Then the SO got an email and had to head back to the hotel for more work.
I decided to go try the sho zhu yu or water-boiled fish at the Potsticker on Waverly, getting in a stroll around Chinatown while I was at it. The server probably thought I was a bit mad ordering such a large dish on my own but it was well worth it, especially when I realized I could take the leftovers to SFO with me the next day for early dinner before the plane home. I really enjoyed this version of a favourite dish, which had cilantro and a few extra peppercorny things added. The extensive menu seems to have some worthy items, and it's nice to know there is Sichuan within easy reach of the hotel.
Collected the SO and we joined his brother at Locanda for dinner. This meal was disappointing. Decent cocktail at the bar while we waited briefly for our table. The appetizers we had were fine but the two pastas we ordered were boring. The rib special was tasty but not very exciting, and they were out of the brussels sprouts at 7:30 on a Tuesday (!) with no other green contorno option. For the price, I would not rush back, when there are so many other solid Italian options. Service was very good in a busy, busy room.
We randomly picked a bar called Dalva nearby for an after-dinner sour for me and Moose Drool for the boys. Not bad if a little loud (the 'tender turned the music down when I noted that it had suddenly gone up many decibels in a room with about five people in it, which was nice) but it sounds like we should have checked out the Hideout in the backroom instead.
The SO and I continued on to the Armory Club for a nightcap, including a Gently Bonded for me. This is a very pretty room with lovely bar staff, and a lovely bar, plus intriguing artwork ;-). I'd come back for sure.
Bit of a slow start on Wednesday after my three-cocktail night. We opted to try out the newish 20th Century Cafe on Gough. The word quaint comes to mind to describe the place and the experience. The owners are trying to evoke a laidback, 50s feel and it works quite well -- a change of pace indeed from third-wave coffee houses. The potato knish was well seasoned and not at all stodgy. Pastries are indeed small as noted online but I kind of liked that. I've been faced with one too many scones of unusual size that weren't particularly good. I prefer petite and good!
The SO enjoyed his housemade granola with yogurt and apples. I had something called a hot butterscotch to drink that, though quite sweet, was ridiculously decadent and craveworthy. The SO's cappuccino was more than acceptable, produced on a finicky but beautiful lever machine.
We had a wander up Hayes Street, stopping for a macchiato at Blue Bottle Linden Street on the way. Loved the crazed pigeons wedging themselves into the dogdish for a bath.
Then it was time to meet cynsa and her SO at Cotogna for lunch. The room was lovely and lively as ever. We ordered four pastas, plus a passable burrata and of course the outstanding sformato, cauliflower this time. The gnocchi was just as good as last time, and the egg-stuffed raviolo was delightful. I was less enamoured of the duck tagliatelle and the lamb ragu, but they were well executed and that was a personal preference. Not a cheap lunch at $130 before tip including three beverages, but worth a bit of a splurge.
Our DCs kindly dropped us at the Haas-Lilienthal House where we joined a tour of this originally appointed Victorian home. Then it was off to the Mission on the dreaded 47 bus (is that thing ever not packed to the gills?). A beer for the SO and a non-alcoholic beverage with chile (!) in it for me washed down my beloved Mission Bowling Club burger and an order of slightly-past-their-prime shisitos. The patio seating allowed us to soak up every last drop of the late afternoon sunshine before nabbing a number 14 back to the hotel. Then it was SFO for me via the shuttle bus, and a final Blue Bottle New Orleans iced coffee at the Fraiche in Terminal 3 to go with my leftover Sichuan fish.
WOW do you know how to pack in the good eats and fun! if i hadn't been along for part of the ride... well, i'd be sad!
i'm so sorry SO had to work for so much of the trip - and i didn't know he'd stayed after and you ended up traveling alone. hopefully next trip he'll not have any office emergencies.
Re Dalva - so funny, me and the BF hit that bar the other night and had one too many but enjoyed the hell out of it. brought us back to our old courting days, as it used to be part of our stomping grounds.
and i'm so excited you found and liked The Pot Sticker! Friends of mine had been - went there instead of Z&Y as the wait there was too long - and loved it, and I'd been dying to try it. funnily enough, just last Wednesday i stopped in for lunch take-out mapo tofu - loved it. they made it extra spicy for me (well, it still could have been spicier) and i think it was my favorite version so far (of course, i've only had 3 or 4 so far). i also loved their simple steamed rice - so very fragrant. we may have to arrange a Chowdown next time you come.... I'm eager to try more of their menu.
Sorry you didn't like Locanda - my sis and i loved it, but i can almost see where they'd have room to run amiss....
I'm with the SO - i did love the burger at Kronnerburger, for its freshness but also for its flavor. and of course i agree on those blessed rings and that iceberg salad with the amazing bacon. I'm sad they're gone now, but hopefully they'll reopen soon in Oakland. However, i agree with you that Hopscotch's burger was better. Hopscotch is just a gem.
Ta ta til next time!
And thank YOU for ferrying me around Fruitvale/Berkeley/Oakland two days in a row, couldn't ask for better DCs :-). Also for introducing me to the chilaquiles at Southey and the gimlet at Make Westing, both high points of this trip, and the latter one of the best cocktails I've ever imbibed. I'd be there every happy hour if I lived in the Bay Area, so perhaps it's just as well I don't!