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The rest of JJL's trip to SF

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The rest of JJL's trip to SF

j.jessica.lee | Mar 19, 2010 10:47 PM

So to continue....

After my incredible meal at La Ciccia last Friday night, I woke up bright and early on Saturday and made my way to the Saturday Ferry Building Farmers Market. I got a huge assortment of flavorful greens from Hidden ____ Farms as well as some beets and purple scallions and such. I also got some brussels sprouts from Iascone (?) Farms, tried cherimoya at a stand, got a pear, walnut, and gorgonzola tart from Frog Hollow (blech - the pears were absolutely flavorless, the gorgonzola just awful against flavorless pears - the pastry was okay, but couldn't save the flavorless filling), a chocolate bomboloni from Borietta (some of you have complained about stale bomboloni, but this was very good - great texture of dough and a nice chocolate custard filling - would definitely return for this and just might go back for one tomorrow!), a raw clam from the oyster/clam guy inside (YUM!), and sampled from various stations. Being so stuffed from my dinner the night before, I had to pass on the Roli Roti stand as well as the Namu and Primavera. :(

Later that afternoon, I went with a friend of mine to the Marin Headlands and drove and hiked around for a bit. Just gorgeous! I envy you all, having such beauty so close by and accessible!

On Sunday, I lounged around and then took a run in Golden Gate Park. After my run, I exited the park at 25th on the north side and made my way up to Geary and walked down Geary all the way to 7th Avenue. I just loved looking in all the Russian/Polish delis and markets. I bought a little package of salmon belly from New World Market and a little cheese/cherry strudel from another. I really wanted to have a piroshki, but my stomach was still recovering from the previous week of gluttony! When I returned home, I showered and then my friend and I went out to PPQ on Irving for pho, crispy spring rolls, soft shrimp summer rolls, and a side of five-spice chicken. I only had a bite of the pho as I'm pretty allergic to MSG. It was quite good, but not the best I've had. The spring rolls were fried well and had a nice flavor and texture and chew. The shrimp summer rolls were your typical summer rolls - not bad, not great. The five-spice chicken was very delicious but quite greasy and fatty. The skin was crisp, the chicken wonderfully flavored. I would order this again.

On Monday, I rented a car and made my way up north to Sonoma! After picking up the car, I drove down to Tartine for a pain au chocolat and a coffee. The pain au chocolat was every bit as good as I remembered it, but if you held a knife to my throat, I would have to pick the frangipane croissant. My first stop in Sonoma was at Gloria Ferrer and I took a tour and had two glasses of sparkling wine. Boy, what a great way to start the day! In general I liked the sparkling wine, but it wasn't anything I'd go back for or make a special purchase for. However, I did buy a bottle for my sister because I felt bad not buying anything. The girl there recommended Deerfield Ranch, so I headed up there. On the way, I stopped in downtown Sonoma and walked around, enjoying the beautiful day. I ate a meal I made from the farmers market bounty of Saturday in the square and then continued on to Deerfield Ranch. I tasted about eight different wines as part of their tasting flight. Much more interesting stuff here, but nothing that I loved. But as the guy working there conveniently "lost track" of what wines I was supposed to have in my tasting flight, I bought a bottle of the one I liked most. I then made my way to Sugarloaf Ridge and took a beautiful two hour hike. Can I say again how much I wish I lived here?? I then drove across to Yountville via Trinity Road (beautiful drive!) and peeped in at Bouchon Bakery and Bistro and of course took a peek at the French Laundry and its gardens. I stopped by Oxbow Market on the way down and got a mini passionfruit cupcake at Kara's. It was a good cupcake with a nice, moist, tender crumb. Very impressive considering its small size. The flavor of the passionfruit curd inside was nice, but I didn't care for the buttercream on top. Too much of it and it tasted plasticky almost and quite bland. What a day!

On Tuesday, I walked around for a while and then met old family friends for dinner. They wanted to take me to Sutro's at the Cliff House. It was a beautiful setting! The food was good, but for the price, not worth it. I felt bad that they spent so much money on dinner! But it was half price wine night, so we got a nice bottle and enjoyed our evening. I got the scallops and they were well cooked and flavorful except for a large piece of shell/rock that was in my first bite.

My colleagues arrived on Wednesday and we went out to La Ciccia as we had the evening off after rehearsal. Boy, it was even better than my first time! I was greeted with such warmth by Lorella and our server from before, Petra. We had five appetizers: the baby octopus stew again (AMAZING!), grilled calamari (tender, lovely, but outshone by everything else), the special tripe with porcini mushrooms in a tomato sauce (this was by far the star of the night - cooked PERFECTLY, great texture, incredible flavor, just one of those "oh my gosh, how is it possible that anything can taste this good??" moments), crostini, grilled sardines (also well done, but a little one-note and not my favorite). We also had five pastas: fregua with cured tuna heart and ricotta (very very rich, but delicious), the spaghetti with bottarga (just as amazing as last time), linguini with mixed seafood (a classic, but done SO WELL), the special rigatoni with goat and lamb ragu (so flavorful and delicious - you really got the particular flavor of goat meat which I loved), and I got a special off-menu pasta which is the spaghetti from the bottarga with chili and extra virgin olive oil but with cured tuna heart - it was just fantastic! Everything was just outstanding. Then we ordered the semifreddo which was again so unique and delicious, the trio of gelati, and then they sent out the saffron and ricotta cake on the house and it was out of this world. They told us that it is flourless. It actually tasted like a ricotta cheesecake. It was surrounded by toasted, slivered almonds and a delicious honey. What a meal this was! Massimiliano came out and talked with us and Lorella was so kind and along with Petra, took such good care of us. This is the kind of place I will return to every time I come to SF.

Yesterday, I tried an almond croissant and hazelnut chocolate croissant from La Boulange de Polk. They were both very good, but my heart still belongs to Tartine. I also tried a cannele there and it was awful. There was NO crust on the outside. It was completely soft and squishy! As soon as he handed it over to me, I knew it was a mistake. I wished I could return it and get something else. I hope this was just a fluke, because that is not the way cannele is supposed to be...

Tonight, we went out with our hosts/benefactors to Aziza. The food was delicious, but the service was not so good. It detracted quite a lot from the experience, actually. But food first! We had the basteeya (delicious, but not amazing - a little bit too sweet and not enough depth of savory flavor), the lamb meatballs (this was really excellent and I particularly liked the warm, roasted grapes; the jicama slaw was also nice and refreshing and added good texture), the trio of spreads (good, but not something I would order again), the lima beans (this was really excellent - great flavor and I loved the added texture from the toasted breadcrumbs on top; one complaint was that half of the beans seemed to be a bit undercooked - they could have been cooked better and for a Michelin starred restaurant, that is not acceptable), chermoula (delicious and done well), sardines (these were much better than the ones at La Ciccia; I liked that there were no bones and I liked the pickled treatment; it also came with toasted brioche and artichoke and I thought the whole dish was just lovely; definitely would order this again). Our main courses were the lamb shank, the wagyu beef, squab, and quail. The squab was disappointing. It was cooked well, but the portion was just ridiculously small. The fried hen of the woods mushrooms were not particularly exciting - just mushroom tempura, really. The lamb shank was nicely cooked and was a good size portion. The accompanying barley risotto was actually sweeter than the lamb was. The lamb was savory and the risotto picked up the flavor of the prunes. Well done dish. The wagyu beef was delicious as well. Very well cooked. A little low on flavor though. The quail, I did not try. Desserts were the banana crepe (I was underwhelmed by this dish as I'd been looking forward to it the most; fritters were ordinary, the crepe was, however, quite nice with the coffee mousse and banana pieces inside), goat panna cotta (really nice goats milk flavor!), hazelnut dacquoise (quite good). All in all, the meal at Aziza was nice, but I would not go back again. It was expensive for what it was and the service was not up to par, especially considering it was a Michelin starred restaurant. The food was very good, but not good enough to cover the lack of other qualities. Next time, I will return to La Ciccia and also try Canteen. I'm so mad I didn't make it this time.... However, our hosts (one of whom also came with us to La Ciccia the other night) just loved the restaurants and we had a wonderful evening regardless!

Thank you, Chowhounds, for your incredible generosity, for helping me find such great places, and for making my visit such a wonderful one. If I can ever be of any help in New York, let me know! In the meantime, enjoy and appreciate this great and delicious city of yours!

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La Ciccia
291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

Bouchon Bakery
6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

Namu
439 Balboa Street, San Francisco, CA 94118

New World Market
5641 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

Roli Roti
, Hayward, CA

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