My husband and I have been visiting SF on a regular basis for many years and have come to rely on Chowhound for restaurant updates, general board opinions etc...This has proven to be an extremely accurate source and while I've never posted before, I'd like to say thanks to all the SF hounds out there who have helped us formulate our eating itineraries. This was our first wintertime trip and we were excited to see what was being done with (for us) a new set of seasonal ingredients (winter citrus, root vegetables and greens, Dungeness crab etc..). We decided to check out a couple of new places and return to a bunch of old favorites. It looks as though we ate a ton of food (and we did) - take into account that we often had our food savvy 25 year old son who's living in SF with us. In order of consumption:
Delfina Pizza (Mission branch)- This was our first stop after leaving our bags at our hotel's front desk figuring that a beautiful, sunny day would lend itself to a Mission stroll. In interest of full disclosure, I must mention that our son is a sous chef at Pizzeria Delfina and we were anxious to see him as well. We are pizza freaks and over the years have sampled our way through many of the Bay Area's finest. Even prior to our familial connection to the place we've often made it a point to stop into Pizzeria Delfina. The pizza has always been deliciously consistent (we really like their crust) but what we really love is their changing roster of apps and sides. Yes, it's tiny and often crowded but if you time it right the wait usually isn't too bad. We started with two veg sides, a simple plate of room temp Broccoli di Ciccio and some fabulous Roasted Spicy Cauliflower that was cut in large chunks, roasted till simultaneously creamy and crunchy, dressed with terrific olive oil, Calabrian chilies, garlic and capers. We split a Lardo Pie that was a daily special...cipollini onions that had been sweated out with chopped house cured lardo, a good balanced tomato sauce applied with a light hand, mozzarella and grated cheese in proper proportion and some thin sliced lardo applied to the bubbling pie as soon as it came out-it was perfect. Our son also sent us out a Puntarelle Salad. The ribs had been cut into small battonettes (I think they used the tips elsewhere) and dressed in a creamy,Caesar-like dressing. A generous grating of house-cured tuna heart added just the right finish. We had eaten this green in Italy but had not seen it in the U.S. before. As it turns out we encountered it several times during our visit.
Nopa- Dinner that first evening at Nopa. We didn't have a reservation but walking in at about 8:00 wasn't an issue. We waited about 20 minutes in the bar enjoying some well-crafted cocktails...a Campari and Grapefruit Juice with a splash of soda for me and a an unusual and unusually tasty mixture of rye, sweet vermouth and walnut liqueur for my husband. Loved the beverage program (wine list too) and the bartender here! We wound up sitting at the communal table which was fine although the backless seats were not the most comfortable. Started out with two memorable appetizers, a well balanced Quinoa and Smoked Trout Salad with Orange and Hazelnuts and a terrific plate of Fried Pickled Herring that was served with a dilled sour cream based sauce. We decided to split the lauded Grass-Fed Burger and Fries (with cheddar) and it lived up to the hype. Perfectly grilled medium rare, amazingly juicy on a bun that contained it, great fries. We also ordered some Grilled Broccoli (with capers, anchovy and lemon) which was charred in a good way, smokey and well seasoned but undercooked to our taste as the stems were pretty darn crunchy. We had been to Nopa once before for late night snacks and based on these two experiences would not hesitate to return.
20th Century Cafe- Another disclosure thing as I have professional connections to both Michelle Polzine and her head pastry chef but...in a bakery, the product is already made and you're getting the same experience as everyone else. I came here primarily to have the Russian Honey Cake but wound up trying a few other things as well. The Honey Cake is as delicious as others have reported...creamy, light, rich, sweet in the way honey can be sweet and in my opinion, best shared. We had three forks dipping into our just right sized slice which we felt was the right portion (for 2 or 3). We also had a Poppy Seed Bagel with Cream Cheese and Smoked Salmon. I'm originally from N.Y.C., picky about my bagels and smoked fish and thought this was an excellent. The bagel was properly chewy with nice density and decently sized...some might say small, I say not pumped up with a lot of air. Also tried the Potato Knish (it was tasty but I can still taste my Grandmother's in my head and it's hard for me to compare) and the Babka which drew mixed reviews at our table. We all agreed that the Perogies were really something special though. Plumply stuffed with a farmer's type cheese, served with plum preserves and a bit of sour cream, if we weren't going out for lunch we would have ordered a second plate. The food is excellent, the space is lovely but we all felt that the coffee program needs some work. We had lattes and a cappuccino and were not impressed with the barrista's skills and while the wide bowled antique cups are cute, your coffee gets cold very quickly. Until they tweak some operational systems stuff, you might want to consider visiting during non- rush hours.
Nopalito- This was my son's lunch choice as it's near his apartment and he had a hankering for their always delectable Carnitas. This place was a no-brainer kind of choice for us. The Carnitas was redolent of orange, bay and beer, served with terrific warm tortillas, the portion large enough (given that we had heavy morning snacks) for him to take some home. We split some Ceviche that was pretty standard (tomatillo, avocado, jalapeno, cilantro, good chips) and very pristine tasting, and I had a refreshing Citrus and Avocado Salad that was sprinkled with chili powder. My husband said his Butterbean Stew with Chorizo, Bacon and Egg was a tasty gutbuster.
State Bird Provisions- Somehow I managed to score a coveted 8:30 reservation...we had dined here once before, had a blast and wanted to come back. Our experience this time mirrored our last visit. They were jamming but with the new remodel, acoustics were vastly improved.
Given that you never know what might be coming at you next, we did find it useful to pace the meal a bit- it would be very easy to stuff yourself silly in 20 minutes and it pays to not snarf up every plate that is initially offered. We ate our way through a selection of cart dishes, a couple of the ordered items and a couple of the desserts. We gave the thumbs up to most of what we had (with a couple of dishes being truly outstanding) and there were a couple of things that just didn't do it for us (Beau Soleil Oysters overwhelmed by Kohlrabi Kraut...or was it Kim Chee?, a Bacon Chowanmushi and a standard that many people swoon over that we didn't- the Garlic Bread with Burrata). We loved the Smoked Trout Quinoa Tabouleh, the Hamachi, Avocado and Seaweed Cracker, a crazy good dish of Picked Mushrooms and Fermented Turnips, Scallion Pancake with Sea Urchin and a Soy Lime Glaze and a Spiced Cocoa Nib IC Sandwich with Plum Fudge, Black Pepper and Pecans (extra yum!) Oh yeah, there was also Grilled Puntarelle and the Pork Belly Grape Salad, and the Spicy Cauliflower Salad with Bayley Hazen Blue Cheese. Front of the house was on point and service was enthusiastic, extremely friendly and informed.
Swan Oyster Depot- Went for an early lunch at 11:30 and were able to sit right down without a wait! Note to self..perhaps this place is best enjoyed in the winter when the tourista level is low and the oyster season is at a high point. We're an oyster eating family and have always enjoyed the simplicity and feel of Swan. Started with a portion of Dungeness crab Head Goo (I'm sure they have a more appetizing name for this), an item for adventurous crab lovers, a very generous portion of head fat served in the top shell with sourdough and a shake of tabasco, washed down with an Anchor draft. My son and husband split a couple of dozen oysters on the half and a sashimi plate and I had a ginormous Dungeness Salad with Louie Dressing. I have read some people complaining about the prices here but come on, there must have been 3/4 pound of perfectly picked, fabulous crab on my plate (for $24). Some good sourdough, a couple of beers, perfection.
Delfina- Again, we were known entities here but we've to Delfina several times before and have always had great meals here. We love Italian food and love the way San Francisco does Italian food (Cotogna is another one of our favorites). If you're looking for traditionally based rustic Tuscan, Delfina is an excellent choice. We were in Umbria/Tuscany last fall and the comparisons were interesting- overall quality of ingredients ingredients, more of a vegetable focus, a better hand with seasoning and cook times made Delfina stand out. Along with glasses of Prosecco, we nibbled on some warm Castelvetrano Olives and some light, flakey Gnoccho Fritto with La Quercia Prosciutto. A simple Little Gem Salad with Gorgonzola and Radishes sparkled and a plate of expertly Grilled Calamari with a White Bean Salad was a terrific appetizer. Next up were pastas. all delicious, but the best being a generous serving of Bigoli with Fresh Sardines. I've often heard people rave about their Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce and we'd never had it before...had to order a 1/2 portion and have to concur that for something so simple it packed a hell of a lot of flavor and was perfectly cooked. The Straw and Hay was tasty and rich, kind of carbonara-ish, but our preference was for the other two. For entrees we split a pristine cut of Swordfish (grilled just the way I like it-just set in the center) served with Lentils and Fennel Crusted Fennel and a dollop of Anchovy Aioli. The one hiccup in the whole meal was that the fennel was undercooked. Also had a great version of Cacciucco (fish stew ) and sides of Roasted Carrots and Brussel Sprouts. Bread is available upon request and given that it's Tartine bread I would definitely request! A thick slice of a Gelato Terrina with Chocolate, Amarena Cherries and Pistachio that disappeared in a flash and a Yogurt Panna Cotta with Yuzu and Pink Peppercorns (that was just a shade too set but I do like mine barely, barely gelled) satisfied the desire for something sweet at the end of a long, substantial dinner. Excellent service, interesting wine list and again, amazing consistency...hard to go wrong here.
Mission Chinese- We had been once before the first year they had opened and had felt the place was over-hyped...didn't care for the overly gonzo flavor profiles served with a heavy dose of attitude. It's become one of my son's day off dining choices (reasonably priced especially for poor line cooks) and he thought we should give it another try. We wound up having a swell lunch. Our least fave dish was the Kung Pao Pastrami which we all agreed was good but a bit one noted and not as spicy as we expected, not quite enough of the tasty pastrami and way too much bell pepper. The Salt Cod Fried Rice was delicious as was a plate of Market Greens (a simply stir fried/lightly steamed large portion of some pak choi like veg). Also had an incredible dinosaur-sized portion of Veal Rib that was a huge, crisp, lacquered- like piece of meat served on the bone encasing an unctuous layer of fat that gave way to more meat that was almost braised in texture. Totally fabulous if you're not a fat-phobic.
La Ciccia- I'd been reading about this place for a long time and it seems to be a Chowhound/Eater favorite (also came highly recommended by some of our son's restaurant friends). We had a bit of difficulty finding the place , actually walked by the low-key front entrance once and then had to stop in at their sister wine bar La Nebbia to inquire about it's exact location. No matter...we were there for a 9:00 reservation and the tiny room was packed with folks finishing up from the earlier seating while others continued to arrive- I would say that reservations are a must here although they do have a few seats at the bar where people were also eating. After a very brief wait we were seated and proceeded to enjoy a pleasant enough dinner. The menu is smallish and the three of us split six dishes divided into three courses. We started with a straight up Mixed Green Salad with Anchovy Dressing and Parmesan (nice vinaigrette) and the Braised (beyond tender in a good way) Baby Octopus that came in a bowl-swiping tomato sauce. Next we had Toasted Fregola with Squid Ink and a gummy Linguini in Tomato Sugo with Sea Urchin...the flavors on this were good but the pasta was seriously overcooked. For mains we had Grilled Prawns (kind of a skimpy portion for the $$$) that came with a mix of sauteed greens and the daily special fish which was Grilled Ocean Trout (appeared to be the same fish we know as steelhead) that also came with the same vegetable set. It was a good piece of fish, very nicely grilled...would have liked a bit of an herbal/spice counterpoint. Also had a side of Borlotti Beans that were cooked with a bit of prosciutto. Perhaps we should have ordered a meat based entree but everything seemed to share similar flavor combos...tidal pool salinity with fish and tomato or fish and lemon, both with a little garlic and not much else ... Perhaps it was just an octo/anchovy/squid ink/urchin overload...and perhaps it was just our collective moods at the time... we liked it but didn't love it .
Zuni- This was a last minute choice for us as we had read that Kin Khao was opening for lunch service that day and originally was going to go there. When we showed up we were told that they put lunch service off till the following week (and have now seemingly put it on permanent hold). After a short deliberation, as an alternative we decided to walk into Zuni and are so glad that we did. We used to always drive straight to the airport and go to Zuni for oysters and a bottle of wine. When our son was 10 and we took him to SF one of our most memorable meals was at Zuni where he had oysters and cured anchovies for the first time. It was a bit of an emotional homecoming...the afternoon was sunny, we sat in the front window, had a wonderful server and ate another perfect lunch. We love the fact that however much or little you wish to consume there's probably something here that will make you happy. The two guys next to us had 2 oysters each to accompany their 2 Lemon Drops ...we chose to split a mixed dozen and then have a Duck Confit Salad that came with Cracklings and a Poached Egg and my partner had Grilled Housemade Toulouse Sausage with Butterbeans . Also split an extremely light Petit Meringue based on thin crisp discs of baked meringue layered with lime cream and ginger syrup for dessert. Superb bottle of '10 Roulot Bourgogne Blanc. Love the wine list here always.
Kin Khao- Originally we were going to go to Tosca for dinner but seeing that Kin Khao was closed for lunch made us flip our plans and do dinner there instead. Normally we would never check out a brand new restaurant until it's been opened for several weeks but this was our last night in San Francisco and I had been following the progress of Kin Khao ever since Pim Techamuanvivit announced her plans for the restaurant last fall. Our only regret is that we were only a table of two and we couldn't try more of the menu. We started with cocktails at the bar, a "Tom Yum" which was a mixture of Tanqueray, Vermouth Lime, Galangal, Lemongrass, Abbots Bitters and soda for me and a hauntingly flavored "Rasa Umami " for my husband which was a balanced blend of Hidalgo Oloroso Sherry, Black Grouse Scotch, housemade Tumeric Lime Cordial and White Pepper...really, really delicious! Once seated the fact that it was a newbie operation became a bit more apparent as service was a little disorganized (but earnest and friendly-they were trying hard). We ordered the Yum Yai Vegetable Salad and the Yum Kai Dao fried duck egg salad. Also the Saeng-wah Salad which featured a wild gulf prawn seviche, crispy catfish bits, ginger, herbs and chili (great textures) as well as the Rabbit Green Curry. EVERYTHING we had was delicious...we may have screwed up ordering both the Vegetable Salad and the Duck Egg as the chili jam dressing that was on both plates predominated and was therefor a bit redundant but the overall flavor of each individual plate was excellent. The prawns in the Saeng-wah Salad were amazing and the Green Rabbit Curry was pretty friggin fabulous. It consisted of rabbit leg and saddle (still on the bone), rabbit meatballs, and Thai eggplant in a complex green curry that made us very happy. I can see that if you're not used to eating rabbit and not familiar with it's bone structure this dish might be difficult to eat (we saw the folks at another table having some problems attacking the rabbit itself) but it was a perfectly cooked bunny. Very tasty Jasmine Rice was served with this course which was useful for mopping up every delicious bit of sauce. A delicious Mosel riesling perfectly complimented the food. This is mighty fine Thai food done with top notch ingredients cooked by a talented chef.