San Francisco, open your golden gates, don’t make this girl wait to fill up her plate! (I hope you read that in a sing-song voice, as I did.) This past weekend I got to reunite with the part of my heart that I left in San Francisco. Okay, okay, S.F. song reference quota met, I promise. ;) During my obsessive research pre-trip into the wee hours of the morning for the last few days before departure, as is usually the case, I discovered that S.F. prides itself as being quite a foodie city, as do its inhabitants and food-loving visitors alike. Truth be told, I’d never really considered S.F. as a foodie city. Not that I thought they have bad food, but I just hadn’t thought of it as a foodie destination, like, say, New York. Well, clearly I just wasn’t thinking. Of course, northern California in general is known for its support of local, fresh, and quality ingredients. Think Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, amongst others. And then there’s Thomas Keller and The French Laundry in Yountville – and of course wine country. So what was that I was saying about being surprised S.F. was a foodie destination? Clearly I wasn’t thinking straight. Not to mention some of my strongest memories of S.F. as a kid involve food. Calamari steak and fresh sourdough bread from Tadich’s, red, white, and green pasta sauces from Caffe Sport, and chocolate ice cream at Ghiradelli Square.
Well, about a week or so before I left it dawned on me that I know quite a few people who either live in or frequently visit S.F. I was already perusing Yelp obsessively, so why not tap into real people for recommendations, too? Throughout my research I soon came across the Ferry Building. People seemed to love the Ferry Building and all of its artisan food shops. I was intrigued, very intrigued. So a night or two before I left some of my friends got a late night e-mail proclaiming my uncontainable excitement for the Ferry Building. I may or may not have compared myself to a kid on Christmas Eve in anticipation of Christmas morning. Hey guys just be happy it wasn’t a late night phone call! ;) Tuesdays and Saturdays a farmers’ market is set up at the Ferry Building in addition to all the permanent stores inside. I knew where I was going to be Saturday morning; it was non-negotiable. I even had dreams of visiting the Ferry Building twice while in S.F.
So onto the events of the weekend. Friday night a friend picked me up and off we went to Sunflower Vietnamese Restaurant in the Mission area. It was crowded when we walked in, and we had a short wait. However, people waiting is usually a good sign. I also noticed a Yelp sticker in the window. I don’t regard Yelp as the Quality Bible, but the sticker’s presence was noted and filed in the right place. We were seated at a corner table in the very back of the restaurant next to another group. I thought the restaurant had a nice, cozy atmosphere. I liked it. I got the vermicelli bowl with five spice chicken and Imperial rolls – deep fried rice paper rolls filled with pork, taro, and other veggies. The chicken was good and had a nice warmth from the five-spice blend. The Imperial rolls were very tasty as well. Again, I have to start taking notes so I can be a more detailed blogger. ;) My friend got the vegetarian vermicelli bowl. He pretty much cleaned out the bowl. I think that means he liked it. I did, however, manage to successfully solicit a bite of tofu. It, too, was tasty. Sadly, my bowl looked like it had barely been touched. I, for some reason, was rather full. I attribute it to the fact that I did pretty much nothing but sit all day thanks to a three-hour delay out of LAX. Low clouds in S.F. Likely story, eh? Well, my lack of appetite at dinner didn’t stop me from bringing my food back to the hotel with me. After dinner we went to a bar where I was introduced to Tumner Pilsner. I became a fan. Once back in my room, I noticed my appetite had resurfaced (another likely story, eh?) and the leftover chicken and Imperial rolls were the perfect solution. I had a vegetarian Imperial roll in there, too, which was just as tasty. :) This worked out splendidly as I had no fridge in my room. :)
Then Saturday morning came. As it became evident that my original plan of breakfast or brunch at the Ferry Building wasn’t going to materialize (I was running late, and knew I would get to visit later in the day.), I very happily looked forward to Froot Loops and sourdough toast, coffee included. What? It’s a childhood classic. Anyway, moving on.
A friend picked me up at my hotel around noon, and we set off for the Ferry Building in the rain – which had just started. Thankfully by the time we had parked – in the most convoluted parking garage ever mind you – and emerged from the lot the sun was beginning to shine through the clouds and bits of blue were poking through. We were welcomed by a great view of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island – I was very amused that there is actually a place called Treasure Island. Win.
The building was very pretty inside and out. My friend, a graphic designer, mentioned she was very fascinated and impressed by the interior. We walked into a busy, crowded, and relatively fast-paced environment with lots of people standing around, chatting, and perusing all the shops’ offerings (one of which had food-related antiques). Olive oil brought us into our first shop, the Stonehouse California Olive Oil Company. They had free samples lined up with pieces of bread available for dipping. My friend actually spotted this before I did and wasted no time digging in. I followed suit – after all I was here to eat, right? I sampled the Arbequina olive oil, which I thought had a slight grassy flavor and was full-bodied. Very yummy indeed. I always feel bad taking a lot of free samples, so I didn’t try the others. Had I, I would have been very interested in trying the blood orange olive oil.
After that I just about walked smack dab into Boccalone. Okay, I realize how that might sound like I just walked into the store, but I more meant that as “I almost walked into a wall,” sort of thing. I was excited. We walked in (it’s a very small store, more like a storefront), looked at a few things, and then left. It wasn’t time for the meat cone just yet. Yes, meat cone. After walking past some very large (and a very large variety of) mushrooms at Far West Fungi and the outdoors farmers’ market we decided it was time for lunch.
Well, what d’ya know? One of the recommendations I received was at the Ferry Building – Taylor’s Automatic Refersher. Supposed to have pretty decent burgers and sweet potato fries, according to my source. So my friend and I ventured in – I was excited because they serve Niman Ranch beef – and ordered. It was pretty cool inside. You order and pick up your food at a counter. Large, high tables were set up with stools for dining inside and the outdoor patio had wood tables. As the sun had shone through we opted to dine outdoors. I ordered the cheeseburger and fries, my friend ordered the grilled cheese with garlic fries. As soon as she saw garlic fries, she was sold. Although garlic is pretty much one of my favorite things ever, I just wanted to try the normal fries; taste the purity that is a French fry from Taylor’s Automatic Refresher. Plus, I was planning on stealing a garlic fry anyway. ;) Aaaand here’s lunch…
I described the burger as a well done classic (No, not well-done meat! Never!). The beef was good, cooked just right – oh! it was so nice and juicy! – the bun was very tasty, the cheese was good and gooey, and the sauce and vegetables were pretty standard. I took the veggies off later anyway. I’m not a big fan of veggies on a burger unless they’re onions – raw, grilled, whatever. Sometimes the lettuce can stay, but the tomato usually has to go. If it’s a “gourmet” burger, the toppings get to stay because they’re generally part of the whole experience. Okay, moving on from my burger idiosyncrasies. My friend said she thoroughly enjoyed her grilled cheese – and the garlic fries. The fries were average, and the garlic fries – which, of course, I had to taste – tasted like average garlic fries – that’s a good thing. I liked Taylor’s because they did classic American comfort food – and they did it well. I would return if I was looking for a good grilled cheese or classic burger. (I’d probably say the same about the cheeseburger at Henry’s Hat in L.A.) Gourmet? I’d go somewhere else (although the meat quality was great), but nothing’s ever wrong with the classics. Hello? Froot Loops. ;)
So pretty full at this point, but do you know what time it was? Time for a meat cone and coffee from Blue Bottle. Yep, I know it’s a hard job, but gotta forge ahead. I won’t lie though – I wasn’t entirely looking forward to it, if only because I knew my stomach was going to threaten to explode its contents if I kept treating it like this. So without further adieu – Boccalone Salumeria. Finally. Tasty salted pig parts reads their motto. Seriously, what’s not to love about that? I happily went up to the cashier and placed my order for a meat cone with a large smile on my face. I had read that they also carry guanciale, which I’ve read is supposed to be the true pork ingredient in dishes such as pasta all’amatriciana and spaghetti alla carbonara – not pancetta (which I heart, but that’s a whole other story). I was tempted to buy some, but I wasn’t sure how well it would hold up. The man I spoke with told me that products like guanciale or pancetta would be totally fine unrefrigerated for a few days, as they were uncooked, cured, and very fatty. Interesting. I still didn’t buy any. I’m still undecided as to whether or not I regret that decision. I’ll keep you updated. I do regret, however, not asking the man what exactly I was eating – maybe he told me and I just forgot. He probably told me. Again, start taking notes, start taking notes. Anyway, you are presented with a trio of meats: a salami, ham, and something that resembled mortadella – and may well have been a really, really good mortadella. The ham was my least favorite as it tasted – and I hope I’m not chastised too harshly for saying this – kind of like normal good-quality ham. The mortadella was peppery, and the pistachios went very well with the meat’s flavorings. I feel like it had a sweetness to it. The salami was a little saltier, but also seemed to have a slight sweetness to it. I so wish I could remember more. I was trying to decide if maybe clove or allspice was somewhere in there. Definitely some tasty salted pig parts. Boccalone win.
So what goes best with meat cones? Why coffee, of course! Yeah, I wasn’t too sure about that either, but that was next on my food quest, so it had to be conquered. I was very intrigued by all the Yelp reviews mentioning the New Orleans-style iced coffee. I’m not the biggest fan of iced coffee, and it was San Francisco in January. But the burger and meat cone had been undeniably filling and warm coffee can fill you up in that spreading warmth through your body way, so iced coffee was starting to sound not too bad at this point. There was quite a line at Blue Bottle – and it moved pretty slowly. :\ But we waited patiently. Plus, I didn’t mind the thought of a small break before putting anything else in my mouth. The coffee smelled very good, people seemed happy, and I noticed they serve affogato with Humphry Slocombe’s Tahitian Vanilla. Win. Too bad I wasn’t there for dessert. I ended up going with the masses and ordering the New Orleans-style iced coffee. It sounded interesting, I wanted to know why it was “New Orleans-style,” (I assumed chicory was in there somewhere.) a cold drink – of just about any kind – sounded better than hot coffee at that point, and if I became that desperate, I could always order some beans or have a friend pick some up for me. The first two or three sips were good, very good, but my mind wasn’t blown. Enter the following sips. Okay, okay, my mind still wasn’t blown, per se, but I took a whole different kind of liking to the coffee drink. There was a subtle sweetness and the unique flavor of the coffee and chicory really started to come through. Overall, I can definitely see why some people swear by this drink – and could see myself becoming addicted if I lived near a Blue Bottle, or chose to buy all of the ingredients and equipment to make them at home. I won’t lie – when going to get my first coffee drink upon coming home, I thought to myself, “Oh, how I wish I could have Blue Bottle.” Seriously. Ah, well. Guess I’ll just have to travel the 357 (approximately ;)) miles soon, eh?
By this point I think I probably was actually waddling. On my list for the day I also had Ghiradelli chocolate ice cream and Humphry Slocombe ice cream. Oh! And an Irish coffee from Buena Vista Café (another recommendation). But like I said, I was waddling, so I thought a break might be prudent. My friend and I headed off to the great Golden Gate Bridge. I couldn’t remember having been there before – whether or not I have been is still unverified at this point. The views were absolutely amazing. My friend then had me follow her – to a bridge that goes under the Marin County side of the Bridge. Very cool as you can see the structure of the bridge. Yet totally terrifying as you can feel – and hear – all of the cars literally speeding above you.
Okay, break was over (short, I know). I now had a critical decision to make. Ghiradelli, Humphry, or both? Well, actually, I made this decision before we even left the Ferry Building, but I feel it goes best in the story here. I had to go with Humphry. Ghiradelli will always hold a special place in my heart. Always. But I’ve been there numerous times, and I’ve never been to Humphry Slocombe’s. And I was told by my friend, The Geeky Gourmand, that I might be “keeled” if I didn’t try it. Humphry clearly had to be my guy that day. So back over the bridge and on to Humphry’s we went. I no longer felt like I wanted to explode, so we were already off to a good start. The unique ice cream shop brought me back to the Mission district of S.F. It was located in a mixed residential/local business area. It’s a very modern looking establishment and has about three cute tables with chairs outside. There is some counter seating inside as well.
So I had heard much about their Secret Breakfast flavor, which is corn flakes and bourbon. Clearly, I was going to have to at least sample that one, so sample I did. I was hoping for a more unique flavor; to be a little more surprised. However, it had a nice, but not overpowering sweetness to it and, well, tasted like corn flakes and bourbon – and cream. I’d also read a lot about their Blue Bottle Vietnamese coffee flavored ice cream. It’s seeming there is some kind of Blue Bottle-Humphry Slocombe affiliation going on. Reviews of Humphry’s Blue Bottle ice cream were actually what led me to Blue Bottle coffee. People were saying it tasted just like the coffee, which was some of the best coffee. Taste number two went to the Blue Bottle Vietnamese. Yes, it was one of the best coffee ice creams I’ve ever tasted. Very rich and full-flavored. What coffee ice cream should be. There were a variety of flavors I wanted to try, but as I said earlier, I do feel kinda bad taking a lot of free samples. I already felt I was pushing my luck, but I went ahead and asked for a third taste. I should note that I was definitely not the only one asking for multiple tastings. Anyway, back to the ice creams. Salted licorice. That one sounded unquestionably unique – and I love licorice. And salted things as a general rule. At first taste, it tasted like very, very salty licorice. I wasn’t so sure about this. But then came the aftertaste. Usually “aftertaste” isn’t a term of endearment when it comes to foodstuffs, but this time I’m definitely using it as such. The saltiness was wonderfully tempered by the creaminess of the ice cream and the sweet and warm licorice flavor. Now, dear readers, you might be wondering – what did I actually order? That would be the ancho chocolate. For the record, I also sampled it. :D Before I ever looked at their online menu, much less got to their store, I pretty much knew I’d be ordering chocolate ice cream. Chocolate is not only my standby, but my favorite. It’s the constant by which all ice creams and gelatos are judged – precisely because chocolate is my favorite. Now I should probably admit that I will stray from pure chocolate – but usually only if it’s not available. And Humphry did not offer pure chocolate, at least not when I was there. I was a fan of the ancho chocolate. It had a good rich, chocolatey flavor. However, while I was eating my kid’s scoop at an outside table people-watching with my friend I started to detect the subtleties of the ice cream. It had a slight smokey undertone and every once in a bite I would notice very mild heat at the end of a spoonful. This was definitely some good chocolate ice cream – definitely worth the price of forgoing Ghiradelli. Sorry, G Square, I will be back another time, and you will always have a place in my heart – I promise! I now accepted that my afternoon o’ food was over – soon enough my night o’ food would begin. :) (Photos of ice cream forthcoming, I promise. :))
My friend and I couldn’t decide where to go come dinnertime. I’d gotten a few recommendations from family and friends, we’d gotten some more recommendations from the woman at the front desk, but nothing was screaming out at us. For the record, the woman at the front desk recommended Sears, which is right next door to the hotel. And, no, not the department store. ;) She said most people love it for breakfast, but she actually thinks their dinner is better. Duly noted. So back to our dinner dilemma.
My friend and I decided to just start walking down Powell and see what we could find. A couple blocks down from the hotel we came across an Italian restaurant inside a hotel. Italian had sounded yummy from the get-go. Okay, we found our dinner establishment – Kuleto’s in the Villa Florence Hotel. We had the option to sit at a bar overlooking the kitchen. Done! We both hungrily perused the menu, happy at our prospects. They were also offering a prix fixe menu with some of the proceeds going towards relief for the Haiti earthquake. We decided on that and ordered an additional appetizer to share. The first course was a quail terrine with Dijon aioli, lightly dressed mixed greens, and toasted bread. I wasn’t so sure about the terrine. The last time I had pate, I wasn’t the biggest fan – but I also suspected it may not have been the best pate to sample as a first-timer. This quail terrine I liked. It was pretty firm, but still pretty spreadable, and had a nice, faint tang to it. The aioli was good and had a nice, creamy consistency. And for those of you that have been out aioli-ing with me you know how I kvetch about a large portion of “aiolis” not actually being aioli. Anyway, I digress. So the aioli was good in case you were wondering. ;) As were the mixed greens. All together, the flavors melded together nicely.
Onto our second appetizer – bruschetta. O.M.G. So tasty. This came with roasted and marinated red peppers, burrata, and arugula. Then some extra-virgin olive oil was drizzled over the cheese, and it was seasoned with salt and pepper. The burrata was so good. I wish I could just take up a whole post talking about it. Well, I probably could do a post on burrata. Hmm… So creamy and buttery and just delicious. If you like fresh mozzarella and are wondering what you’ll think of burrata, the answer is – you’ll probably heart it. A lot. I remember the first time I had burrata. I wasn’t so sure about it. It is one of the most disgusting looking cheeses, in my humble opinion, of course (that is, when it still has its outer “shell” – which is not so much a shell as an outer layer of less gooey cheese). It’s so gooey and wet and squishy. But then I tasted it. And then I knew. I knew the glory that is burrata. And it was just heaven with the olive oil and salt and pepper. Simple, fresh food at its best. The dish as a whole was good, each component separately tasty, yet they all went together really well. Usually I prefer tomatoes on my bruschetta – I’m a bit of a traditionalist like that – but roasted red peppers are never bad in my book either. The arugula was peppery and slightly bitter, as it should be, but complimented nicely by the vinaigrette.
Our main dish was steak pizzaiolo. We had it cooked medium, and it was medium – very thankful about that. : ) I hate getting overcooked meat, and I’m so over well-done – says the girl who used to flinch at any trace of pink in her In-N-Out burgers. Oh, how I’ve grown. ;) The sauce was good and had a nice tang, but I felt the black olives were a little out of place. That surprised me, and made me kinda sad, as I love olives, and was very much looking forward to them. The polenta served alongside was alright, but then again I’m not the biggest polenta fan. I felt it had a good consistency, but was somewhat bland. Truth be told, I think I enjoyed the appetizers more than the main course. C’est la vie!
Dessert was a flourless chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream and espresso crème anglaise. While I love chocolate, I usually miss the flour in flourless chocolate cake, and have found it sometimes too rich. Weird, I know. This cake was as expected, but had a good chocolate flavor, and the hint of espresso was nice – and the ice cream was scrum-diddly-umptious. Seriously. Sometimes, as much as I love chocolate, good vanilla ice cream can steal the show. Just don’t tell chocolate! ;) All in all, I was impressed with Kuleto’s and would offer a good recommendation if asked about them. It’s San Francisco – I’m sure there are a ton of other really good Italian restaurants – which I’d love to try, too – but this one didn’t disappoint.
After dinner we had covered. We’d decided that Bourbon and Branch would be our destination. My cousin raved about it, and my friend’s sister, who lives in the city, listed it as one of her favorites. My friend was also super excited about it, as they require a secret password to get in and there was reportedly no real sign out front – all there to reinforce their speakeasy vibe. Their Web site (yes, I do recognize the irony here of a speakeasy having a Web site) even asks that you “speak easy” while inside. Reservations are required…for the main bar. Located inside the bar there is yet another bar completely closed off from the seating area. It’s the bar for those without reservations. It offers a limited drink list and very sparse seating – but it’s a ticket in if you don’t have a reservation. My friend and I weren’t able to get a reservation, so we planned on going to the smaller bar, fondly known as the Library. I personally thought the “secret” password (it’s listed on the Web site for the Library, or you’re given one for the evening with your reservation) and list of rules (no cameras among them) all seemed a little cheesy (I am in the distinct minority amongst my friends.). BUT…we have historical speakeasy vibe, handcrafted cocktails (supposedly some awesome gin-based ones – huzzah!), and a room known as the Library that’s lined with books. How could I not go here!?
We walked over after dinner, and as it’s in the Tenderloin, we were careful. Much to our great surprise we spotted a line at the corner where the bar was supposed to be. A speakeasy with a very visible line? I would think not! But then I would be wrong. We got in line without much hope. Too many people seemed to know about it, it was Saturday night – we thought we’d just wait a few minutes and leave. Within ten minutes we were being ushered inside. The woman asked the couple in front of us if they had a password, and they gave her the password for the Library. She then asked us if we were there for the same password. Very discreetly we answered in the affirmative. A group of about six of us followed the woman through the main bar area (very nice, definitely want to get reservations for my next trip to S.F.; dark, historical ambiance, low lights – very cool) to an open door that I noticed upon passing through it was the “famed” wall door – a section of the wall lined with books opens up as a secret door and lands you in the Library. The Library was quite small and quite crowded – as Yelp had told us it would be. Many patrons were dressed in period or period-inspired attire (mostly period-inspired), but there was by no means a dress code. Although I do think it would be fun to get a little dressed up and go there – maybe after-theater drinks perhaps? It made up for its size and people count by literally having walls lined with books (many legal texts!), low lighting, appropriate music, candles everywhere (candles even lined a stairway – this seemed somewhat dangerous to me, but just go with it I guess!), and barrels as “tables.” Totally loved the ambiance. Similar vibe to The Edison in downtown L.A., but they each definitely have their own personalities.
So onto the drinks! I’d heard a lot about their cucumber gimlet – with gin, of course! – and I was intrigued. I had a cucumber gin drink at The Village Idiot in L.A. that had gone over well, so I was eager to try another like-minded drink. Unfortunately, the bartender thought I’d ordered a pomegranate ginger martini with gin. Fortunately, it was incredibly tasty. :) It had pomegranate juice, gin, ginger, sparkling wine, and a twist of lime. I’m sure there were some other ingredients, but I can’t recall. My friend got the French 75. All I can remember about that drink is that it was made with sparkling wine. She said she really liked it. :) I would definitely recommend the Bourbon and Branch – and I bet it’s even better when you can peruse their full menu of drinks and sit in a nice booth. The drinks were very good and well-made. Worth a trip if you want to splurge a little on a good cocktail. :) Also, don’t be deterred by a wait if you’re ever confronted with one there. Everyone was very nice, and it moved fast. :) No photos because I was too much of a wuss to try. Maybe next time! ;)
My second and final morning in the city I forwent the classic Froot Loops and sourdough toast (although, in all seriousness, what’s better than sourdough bread?) for breakfast out. A friend and I went to Honey, Honey Crepery (how cute is the name!?). This sounded good to me as I have a soft spot in my heart for a crepe café near my house, and crepe cafes seem to be popping up everywhere now, so I was interested to try a new one. Plus it was neighborhood-y, so that was an added plus. I ordered the Challah French toast and my friend ordered the oatmeal. No crepes here. :P Truth be told, that little crepe place by my house? Don’t normally get the crepes; usually go with the French toast for breakfast. While we waited for our food – and I hugged my coffee mug – my friend brought us glasses of their complimentary cucumber water. That seemed so “San Francisco” to me. Well, so “California” really. I was new to cucumber water. And? I liked it. A lot. I’m not big on just water – maybe unless it’s iced and I’m hot. Flavored water, however, even if it’s just lemon or lime – which are two of my favorite water flavorings – is a win in my book. It was very fresh and clean tasting. Then our food arrived. I don’t think I’ve ever really had bad French toast – it was what I wanted and that made me happy. :) My friend seemed to enjoy his oatmeal, which I didn’t manage to steal a taste of. ;) But that’s okay, the oatmeal looked yummy enough that it has since inspired me to want to make some. I’m hoping for an Alton Brown recipe. An Alton Brown “Good Eats” recipe preferably. :)
After breakfast we spent about two hours walking around the city. This was much welcomed after my weekend o’ eating. However, on our walk we came across a chocolate factory – a chocolate factory that heralded itself as the only chocolate factory in production in San Francisco. I can’t imagine why they would try to make that so obvious. *Cough* Ghiradelli *cough*. The factory’s shop was cute and modern – and looked like it was built on an old pier inherently giving it some points. Didn’t try any of the chocolate, although it smelled good – I couldn’t bring myself to completely cheat on Ghiradelli that weekend – and it had a pretty awesome “street sign.” (Photo included.)
Finally, it was time for me to return to the City of Angels. I wasn’t all sad though, as I had my grandma’s birthday dinner to look forward to upon arrival at LAX at Fleming’s. That might have to be another post though. And just to make sure I did do everything in my power to remain full for the majority of the weekend, I had some garlic fries from the Gordon Biersch inside the airport. No beer though; I can get that down here. The garlic fries taste just like they do at Dodger Stadium – so I can get those down here, too. Take that for what you will. :P
San Francisco showed me a great weekend, and I loved how close it was – perfect for a weekend getaway “in the city,” since doing that in L.A., as much as I love it, wouldn’t provide quite the same “city” atmosphere. Plus, S.F. is just pretty awesome on its own. :) Since I’ve been recording my food and drink stories in S.F., I would probably be remiss not to mention that the bathroom in my hotel room had a bottle opener right next to the toilet. Yes, seriously. Do with that what you will. By the way, it was definitely a totally suitable hotel. I would stay there again, bottle opener or no bottle opener in the john.
I left my fork in San Francisco (last song reference, I promise!) – with all the places left untasted there was just no other choice. ;)