Here is my much overdue report on the 36 hours that I spend in San Francisco (my first visit) 2 weeks ago.
For dinner the first night, my cousin took me to Tu Lan, a Vietnamese restaurant in the Tenderloin that must be the grungiest, sleaziest restaurant that I have been to in many years. The food was mixed, but what was good was very, very good. First the failures: the spring rolls were pre-fried and somewhat leaden (we noticed them stacked on the griddle on the way out), and the pork kebab with rice noodles was nothing special. Though the meat had a good flavor, with undertones of 5-spice, it was somewhat desiccated, and tasted like it had been sitting around for a while. Perhaps it would be better at lunch. The Bo Luc Lac (beef cubes) was a very tasty dish of meat and onions, but the highlights were the fried pompano, an expertly fried very fresh fish served with nuoc cham with lots of ginger in it, a very inspired combinations; and the banh xeo (I think they called it half moon rice cake) which was the best rendition I have ever had. This is the thin, crisp rice flour crepe, folded over and stuffed with shrimp, meat, sprouts and onions, and served with lots of herbs and nuts. You could taste the iron and the flame in the crepe and it was a truly wonderful dish.
I had breakfast at one of the stands at the farmers market on Embarcadero, a so so huevos rancheros, followed by nibbles of the giveaway fruits, veggies, cheeses and other things from the vendors I could have stayed all day. I topped it off with raw and grilled oysters from the oyster truck. The grilled oysters were probably the best thing I ate in my 36 hours. Lunch at Greens was so so, but I was tired from walking around and it was a pleasant place to stay.
I had dinner at B44, a catalan place on Belden (?) place which was near my hotel downtown. The food was quite good. I had the arroz negro, a black paella, cooked with short-grain rice, very crusty on the bottom, and served with a garlic mayonnaise. It struck me as very authentic. Great wine list too.
I have many regrets for what I missed (esp. Vietnamese sandwiches). I found myself following my eyes rather than my stomach which for me is very rare so I was not necessarily near the best food. All the more reason to go back.