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Chinese and Peruvian highlight day 5, 6 and 7 of grayelf's Nov 2009 Bay area visit (trip report)

grayelf | Nov 26, 200908:55 AM

On Monday morning, I had the chance to try the Fage yogurt I had picked up earlier in the visit for brekky. It was pretty rich and creamy and quite delectable with the accompanying honey mixed in. I’d never tried it before and now I get why other Hounds rave about it. The SO had a yen for Blue Bottle so we headed off to the Mint outpost and he indulged in a latte with his smuggled-in yogurt. I succumbed to a brioche with Nimaan Ranch bacon and gruyere, tasty if a might dear at $5. Thus fortified, we went on the “Bawdy and Naughty” City Guides walking tour which involved almost no walking but many tidbits about SF’s early seamier side. After a quick pitstop to buy a laptop bag at Fossil, we headed over to Chinatown to meet Cynsa for lunch at Jai Yun. It quickly became clear why this place is held in high regard by local Hounds. The SO deemed it in his top two Chinese meals ever (the other was a dinner at Sea Harbour in Richmond, BC), saying “I didn’t know Chinese food could be like this”: light, succulent, perfectly sauced with no gloopiness, fresh ingredients, myriad flavours, lovely presentation – really top drawer. We went for the $18 menu and enjoyed every dish, though for me the standouts were the enoki mushrooms and the stir fried shrimp. The SO was particularly captivated by the cold plates in the first course (see photo). And of course the experience was enhanced by the excellent company . Did I mention that Cynsa brought us a pumpkin and a vanilla Beard Papa for dessert? And she conveyed us to the Wok Store before parting ways (what a treasure trove that place is).

As we walked up Stockton eyeing the many tempting stores and inhaling our Beard Papas, I suddenly heard the distinctive call of the XOX Truffle. We bought coconut, mint chocolate, caramel, champagne and lemon ginger – the SO loved the first two especially. They all have a beautiful texture. A great little spot to drop in. I then went back to the little corner store where I discovered David pumpkin seeds last trip and cleaned out their supply, much to the bemusement of the storekeep. We were wandering back toward Washington Square when we were beset by the flap of tiny green wings – some of the parrots of Telegraph Hill decided to roost in a tree above us. Very cool. We popped into Molinari’s to ogle the sausages, regretfully not buying any as they would be hard to get back into Canada. Then it was onwards to La Spiaggia to investigate the arancini situation. Lo and behold, despite the recent change of ownership, they still have them (thanks to farmersdaughter on this thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/640128 for the heads up) and they are very tasty at $3.50 a pop for a baseball sized specimen (see photos). We nibbled on one in Washington Square, watching with amusement as a group of young locals tried to eat their apparently more-recognizable-as-food-to-pigeons snacks. We had enough energy left to hit a number of great print stores including Arader near Jackson Square before heading back to the hotel on the California car for some rest and reading before dinner.

Dinner was at Mi Lindo Yucatan. We had so enjoyed our meal at Poc Chuc last time that I thought it would be Houndy to expand our Yucatecan horizons. Although it was a decent meal, those of you who suggested sticking with Poc Chuc were right. We had the combination platter and many of the tapa-sized items were overdone and a bit “samey” tasting, including a nearly inedible flauta. We also shared a cochinita pibil which was serviceable but lacked that ineffable something that the Poc Chuc dishes sampled had in spades. On the plus side, the jamaica was spot on, the spinach masa unique and tasty and the mild salsa positively addictive. And of course it was ridiculously cheap as well: we struggled to spend $40 total including two aguas for me and a Negro Modelo for the SO. The service was also delightful, with a friendly server who immediately switched to Spanish when I uttered the word “chuleta” to try to clarify what cut of meat was used in the pibil (see photos). As it was still early, we walked up 16th thinking to hit the Orbit Room where the SO had enjoyed an interesting cocktail earlier in the visit but instead we got sucked into Aardvark Books near Church and Market. So very civilized to have used bookstores open late on a weeknight and with such an excellent selection of food related books! I picked up an MFK Fisher omnibus for $8 and Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires for $7. We underground Muni’d and cable carred home with our prizes.


Tuesday morning it was time to check out the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. We started with a trip to Acme for my beloved ham and cheese turnover but alas they were sold out once again. Apparently the SF health and safety folks have told them they can only keep these puppies on hand for a short time and they were throwing too many out so they are only baking one batch first thing in the a.m. now. Will have to come v. early next time. I settled for a cheesey sourdoughy swirly thing that was tasty enough but my heart was a little broken :- (. We nipped over to the newish Blue Bottle to try it out and enjoyed an interlude of coffee sipping and crossword puzzling, then strolled around the rest of the market and checked out the viewing deck atop the ferry terminal to Sausalito.

Next we did a wander up Hayes Street, noting the existence en passant of a taco truck in a parking lot (see photo) and stopping to enjoy the sunshine in the little park at Octavia Boulevard. Our primary objective, however was Alamo Square which was as picturesque as we remembered from our 2003 trip. What we didn’t recall was how many stunning homes and buildings are in the blocks around the square. We took in the sights and views and then headed down to Nopalito for lunch. It was not quite what I expected but we enjoyed our latish lunch here. The attention to detail is great and the quality of the ingredients very high. We shared a gordita, a panucho and a quesadilla de puerco plus a Death and Taxes beer for $24.64. This was a perfect late lunch/snack but I can understand where some of the comments about the prices come from. Also the writeups on the menu make the food sound fancier than it is, when it is solid but not cutting edge. Still, I would return and would recommend it to others with those caveats.

We decided to brave the crosstown traffic and catch a bus or three to the Legion of Honour which worked out perfectly as we had just enough time to see it all comfortably (it was our second visit). Bonus: actual Egyptian mummy in the house. Then we headed out to the Inka’s Chowdown that Ruth Lafler had kindly arranged. For details on that feast, see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/666252


Wednesday morning saw us back at our oldest haunt in SF, Café de la presse, eggs benedicte for moi, and a croissant and café au lait for the SO. We had our favourite waiter who is so very Gallic. It was tout bon. PIX We wandered around Union Square to check out the ice rink (!) and do a bit of last minute shopping, then headed out to the Fillmore. First stop was for a “breakfast dessert” of frozen yogurt at Fraiche, a place talked up by the Hounds the night before. Good call, this is some tasty stuff. I had chocolate, unusual for me but my favourite after being allowed to sample all three, and the SO had vanilla with strawberry sauce and granola (see photo) – the third option was soy yogurt, IIRC. We’d return for sure as I actually prefer frozen yogurt to ice cream but I hope they start recycling and composting soon.

I had left the decision about where to have a late lunch open and we decided to give Burma Superstar a shot. We nabbed the last table in the place at 2 pm. We tried the tea leaf and the rainbow salad, as well as the samusa soup and the catfish curry. Oh and of course the platha. We were disappointed in all of the dishes in comparison with Burmese Kitchen. The tea leaf salad was extremely oily and had far too much lettuce, plus the “crunchy bits” were too pedestrian (sunflower seeds??). The rainbow salad was nice but a wee bit bland. The samusa soup was tasty but not as good as at BK. The catfish curry sauce was good but unfortunately way oily, and the catfish itself tasted like mud. The biggest oddity was that the platha was deep fried, overcooked and dripping with oil. We didn’t finish most of the food. Perhaps they had the B team on in the kitchen (this was on Veteran’s Day) but I sure wouldn’t return based on that meal, nor would I have been happy to have waited in line for it.

Our eating wasn’t quite finished though as we found ourselves early enough at SFO to finally track down the elusive Burger Joint. I wish we could get burgs this good at most non-airport places in Vancouver! Splitting a cheddar cheeseburger, fries and a vanilla shake was the perfect way to end another excellent gastrotour of SF (see photo). Already figuring out our stops for the next trip in the spring…

Mi Lindo Yucatan
401 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Jai Yun
680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

Inkas Restaurant
3299 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

XOX Truffles
754 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

644 Emerson St Ste 110, Palo Alto, CA 94301

Cafe De La Presse
352 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

Orbit Room Cafe
1900 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Burma Superstar
1345 Park Street, Alameda, CA

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
One Ferry Building, 200 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA

Poc Chuc
2886 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Blue Bottle Cafe
66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

306 Broderick St, San Francisco, CA

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