I will summarize my food adventures on my first trip to San Francisco and share a sad tale from the trip (you can ignore the end of the post if you don't care about anything but the food reviews)
Armed with a two page list of restaurants recommended by fellow chowhound foodies, I realized that my 2-day trip was going to decidedly limit my experience. Thus, I was forced to simply eat at the places on my list that were nearby the other "touristy" things I wanted to do. I was also crippled severely by a $20 food budget PER DAY. I did crafty things like make almond butter sandwiches with goods from the ferry building for breakfast, so I won't review anything for breakfast meals.
My first lunch was an amazing turkey sandwich and O'Henry peach from Frog Hollow Farm in the Ferry Building Plaza. The bread was the whole wheat levain from Acme (I had to buy it myself and bring it back because the Frog Hollow was out of bread!), which was the perfect hearty texture with a pure sourdough tang. The sandwich is usually served on the regular pan levain from Acme, but I always get whole wheat when I can. Then came quality, organic, white turkey breast meat that was thinly sliced. The crowning jewel was their asian pear chutney that was slathered over the turkey. It was just the right balance of sweet and savory--I even bought a jar so I could replicate the sandwich at home!
And considering that peaches are my all time FAVORITE food, it is a high honor when I tell you that the Frog Hollow Farm O'Henry was the best peach that has ever graced my lips.
My travel buddy (dear ol' dad), ate at the Mastrelli's Delicatessen, which was also in the Ferry Building. He got to select a gigantic sandwich roll from a bin with a wide variety of breads (perhaps a bit unsanitary?) and had it packed with meats in the Italian Combo. It was a very big sandwich and satisfied his appetite for under $7.
That night, I did venture out to A16 for a 9:30 dinner reservation. It is really the only culinary hotspot I was able to hit. After getting off the bus at the 1300 block of Chestnut street only to realize I needed to be in the 2300 neighborhood, I was certainly hungry by the time I arrived. The first thing I noticed was the incredible noise that billowed from the open door. The place was packed even though the woman on the phone said they closed at 10 pm. I guess maybe 10 is the latest they let new people in, but they certainly weren't going to clear the place in a half hour.
The table reserved under my name was full of people that were still eating dessert, so we opted to take the two available seats at the chef's counter. It was a really great place to sit, even though it was really WARM since it is right in front of the huge woodfired oven. We were entertained the whole time watching the chef work the dough, put on the toppings, and tend the the pies in the oven. It is a good thing we had that distraction because it was so LOUD that we couldn't have a conversation even though we were right next to each other. Since we were on such a strict budget, we decided to split a pizza--a challenging feat considering my dad is a die-hard carnivore and I don't really care for meat. The solution? We ordered the pizza margherita and asked for their house-made sausage on HALF. The pizza was made very quickly and soon we had a nice tomatoey pie with a thin, charred crust. The sauce was clearly fresh and vibrant tasting. The mozzarella was also fresh, but the chef had an extremely light hand with that and the basil (two leaves on the whole pizza). The crust was thin, but not crunchy like a cracker--it was doughy yet charred and really enjoyable. My dad enjoyed the sausage, but we were both a little shocked to see they charged $4 for that extra topping on half the pizza, which again wasn't exactly what I'd call a decent amount.
Overall, it was certainly yummy pizza and I'm glad I had the experience, but it didn't stand out as a "must try" food experience.
Dessert was also quite a trek as I walked 18 blocks from the nearest bus stop to get to the Bi-Rite Creamery on 18th and Dolores. It was a small whole in the wall with no where to sit inside, but the atmosphere was fun. The employees were sort of hippyish and gave off a very naturalistic vibe. They also used real metal spoons for their tasting samples, so I could tell they were into being green. I got a sample of the salted caramel as it is their signature flavor. It was good, but it left a strange aftertaste in my mouth so I knew I didn't want a full serving. My dad went for that and enjoyed it, but he's the kind who enjoys almost anything. I opted to build my own sundae starting with toasted coconut ice cream, hot fudge, and macadamia nuts. They had a ton of unusual toppings, so it was hard to choose! The toasted coconut was very flavorful and creamy. It is a nice full-fat ice cream that doesn't melt quickly, so I was able to savour and enjoy it slowly. I loved it and think it was worth the journey to try some fun flavors and have unique topping options.
Some other places we visited for my dad were Bob's Donuts and Blue Bottle Coffee. He had an apple fritter and a glazed old fashion at Bob's. They were ginormous and fairly cheap, but he said they pretty much tasted like any other grocery store donut. The atmosphere wasn't the best either as the owner just grumbled with other older women who came in about all the young kids who come in and just buy one macaroon because they want change. Blue Bottle was also a disappointment. My dad stood in line for over an hour (we were at the Ferry Building Market on Saturday) for his vanilla latte. He asked the girl for extra sweetener because he said it just tasted like plain black coffee, and she told him "the milk me use is extra sweet. If you aren't happy with that, there are some sugar packets over there." All that wait for a sub-par, bitter latte didn't make for a happy experience.
That day I made a delicious sandwich with a sharp pecorino romano cheese from Cow Girl Creamery (I was actually disappointed in the size of their store. It was very small and didn't have as many varieties as I expected. The gourmet grocery store in my tiny town in Washington has nearly the same amount of offerings), which was firm and nutty, just the way I like it! I put the cheese on a whole wheat sandwich bun from Della Fattoria's bread stand and a super sweet lemon boy tomato from a special booth (more on that tomato booth later).
We also indulged in Ghirardeli because it is the touristy thing to do. I got the Mint Bliss Sundae with one scoop of vanilla, one scoop of mint chocolate chip, and a healthy drizzle of DARK chocolate hot fudge! It was so rich I nearly got sick, but it was good. The dark chocolate hot fudge is what made it special, otherwise it was just like eating Dreyers ice cream from the store. If you are sentimental and nostalgic like me, you should go there once, otherwise seek out places with special ice cream flavors like Bi-Rite.
I sampled the special Macapuno (sweet coconut) ice cream at Mitchell's Ice Cream (sold in some little ice cream shop in the cannery building). I had just eaten Ghirardeli, so I couldn't have a full order--but when I saw the flyer that said "serving SF's BEST ice cream," I had to at least taste it. It was smooth, bright, and very sweet tasting. It was more refreshing than toasted coconut flavors and really captured the natural flavor of the tropical plant. I'll definitely get a full order if I ever get to return!
Completing the tourist experience, I had to get a sourdough turtle from Boudin's. Considering I haven't eaten anything with white flour in over 2 years, it was no small sacrifice. Other than being nutritionally devoid of benefits and entirely refined, that little bread turtle was scrumptious! I expected it to be more sour and tangy, but it still had a nice bite to it and a wonderful chewy texture.
At the Farmer's Market, I went crazy for the following items: St. Benoit Plum Yogurt, Galaxy Granola (vanilla almond and their honey peanutbutter meteorites), G.L. Fieri Farms Almond Butter and Dark Chocolate Almond Brittle, Marshall's Farm special SF honey varietal, and a wide assortment of fruits and heirloom tomatoes.
Time for the story. Allow me to set the scene: A young 20-something woman wanders blissfully through the tents of ripe produce, soaking up every sight, sound, and aroma in this culinary heaven. She has dreamt of coming to this market for 4 years and feels like she has found paradise on earth. A crusty roll and wedge of cheese tucked in her bag, she sought the perfect heirloom tomato to kiss her sandwich with sweetness. Drawn to the sunny yellow hue that boldly called out amongst the many shades of red, she reached for a delicate, plump specimen that bore the name "lemon boy." She worried that it might be too tart or sour as a tribute to its name, so she glanced up to ask the person in charge to describe its flavor. Imagine her surprise to find that her entire tomato experience had been watched by a handsome pair of eyes, peeking beneath a windswept lock of hair. Two nervous smiles were exchanged. Her words came out all muddled and ridiculous, "what is their taste?" she managed. "Sweet. Very sweet," he replied in a thick, voluptuous accent. She nearly melted, but kept her composure and paid for the precious gem. "Are you visiting?" he asked, flashing an innocent grin. "Yes. I'm from Washington." she wished she could think of something more to say, but he filled in the gap. "That's wonderful. I am from France." "Oh really, perhaps you could show me around your hometown someday..." is what she wanted to say--but "that's so awesome" is what rolled out, like a silly middle school child. In embarrassment, she quickly stepped back into the thickening crowd and caught a last glimpse of his bright eyes as they watched her leave.
A sad tale indeed. Sadder still because the she is me and the he was a very charming young Frenchman who I may never meet again. Strangely enough, my dad, who had been watching from afar, said that I should go back and give the guy my e-mail. I laughed and told him how completely silly that would be, totally out of character for me and way more humiliating than I could stand. Yet, one week later, I cannot stop thinking about our meeting and can't shake the feeling that I should have done something to keep a line of communication possible. Unfortunately, I was so taken with his vivacity that I failed to notice what farm stand he was working at, so I have no way of even attempting to contact him.
At least I had some awesome food!