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Restaurants & Bars 23

Follow-Up: Two Weeks in S.F.

OliverB | Feb 7, 201210:16 PM

First, thanks to everyone who offered advice and suggestions in the previous thread... I don't think I've ever eaten so well (and so much!) in my entire life. San Francisco is truly a food lover's paradise and I don't think I've had a mediocre meal in the city yet. I'm still digesting the past two weeks. I'll give a quick rundown of the places we visited...

My flight into SFO on the 20th was delayed 4.5 hours due to air traffic and rainy weather, so we arrived hungry, tired and a bit jetlagged. After checking into our apartment, we cabbed straight over to Tadich Grill for martinis, oysters and cioppino. The oysters were fresh and meaty but not the most flavorful. The martinis (made with Hendricks gin) were absolutely perfect and the cioppino remains one of my favorite dishes in the entire city. It was the perfect compliment to a moody rainy night, and a great way to start to our vacation. We cabbed back to the apartment at McAllister and Steiner and crashed out early.

The next morning we woke up early and walked down to St. Francis Fountain in the Mission for breakfast... nothing like greasy plates and milkshakesat 10am! I had the corned beef hash with biscuits and country sausage gravy and my friends had the huevos rancheros and chef;s mess. We walked through the neighborhood a bit afterword and up to Nick's Coffee (meh!) and further along to Four Barrel which was outstanding. We walked all the way up to the Financial District and did some shopping and stopped into Tommy's and Lefty's for some afternoon pints. After a scenic trolley up Nob Hill and a Muni transfer back to our pad, we walked up to Bar Crudo for dinner. We were rushed because we were meeting friends at the Castro early this night, so we had to eat quickly. We ordered a selection of oysters and crudo samplers from the raw bar, followed by 2 seafood chowders and a lobster beet salad that was out of this world! There was another entree that I'm forgetting but it doesn't really matter because we unfortunately didn't have enough time to finish our meal and after the oysters, crudo samplers and salad, had the kitchen send all our incoming plates to the next table as we had to split to the Castro! We ended up making two young ladies pretty happy though! A shame because what we did sample of the crudos and salad was absolutely exceptional and I would have loved to have tasted more. Anyways, we had a really fun night that ended with late night burritos at Cancun in the Mission. So far I've been entirely unimpressed with the Mission taquerias and my friend fromt he East Bay swears that I have not tasted a proper taco/burrito until I've been up to San Diego. That's on the list for my bnext trip this spring!

The next morning we woke up early and walked all the way over to the Haight for brunch at Magnolia Pub and Brewery for one of the best breakfasts I've had in the city. My friend got the pulled pork something or other with grits and I had the dungeness crab cake beenedict which was extremely delicious, delicate, creamy and flaky. Thick and tender chunks of crab meat lightly fried or battered to a golden crisp exterior and doused in a rich and creamy bechemel sauce and resting beneath the most perfectly poached fluffy egg whites I've tasted, all atop homemade baked biscuits. Truly incredible! I had a homemade strawberry shortcake with basil reduction and vanilla cream, and a cup of Blue Bottle coffee. An excellent start to the day! We walked through the Haight a bit, did some record shopping, and the rain started to fall. We headed into the Golden Gate Park and checked out the Conservatory of Flowers and Botanical Gardens which were both incredibly beautiful and so fragrant in the fresh rain. The woody, grassy, pine and floral scents carried throught eh damp fresh air and despite the dull rainy weather, made the afternoon all the more special. The rainy day turned into a torrential downpour and so we eventually sought shelter in the Japanese Tea House, where we ordered some very bland 'supposedly flavored' hot water (listed as various teas on the menu!) and some kind of overpriced Japanese trail mix. Can't believe it was a $7 cover to enter this glorified snackbar. Granted the surroundings were really lovely and it was a nice place to kill 15 mins. during the rain storm, but this was clearly geared for the tourists and families. We caught the Muni back to our pad at Alamo Square and got geared up for a night out at the Castro and latenight dinner in Richmond. We initially had reservations at Jai Yun, but received a phone call the previous day informing us that they would be closed due to Chinese New Year. Instead we cabbed from the Castro over to PPQ Dungeness, only to find they were closed as well! Luckily, we were a short walk from Shanghai Dumpling King... still my absolute single favorite meal we'd eaten on opur entire trip through the Bay area! We really went all out for this one. Our server had us switch to a larger family sized table to accommodate the amount of food we ordered! Our 4-seater table was literally overflowing with plates stacked on top of one another. We started with a spic & tart cucumber salad which was served cold and really offered a nice clean kick of vinegary green to our otherwise gluten and meat heavy meal. Next came the oversized pan fried pork buns. Huge freshly baked doughy balls with a sweet chewy exterior and filled with a piping hot center of extremely flavorful, tasty and tender pork meat. A lovely and surprisingly delicate contrast of flavors and textures. The lion's head meatball casserole came next and was the shining star of the show! This bowl would have been enough for the two of us alone, but served only as an appetizer to what was to follow... an order of handmade xiao long bao steamed shanghai dumplings and hung zhou crab and pork dumplings (both exceptionally delicious!) and spicy chives and pork soup dumplings that my have been my favorite dish of the night! Then an order of Shanghai style stir-fried noodles, braised string beans (another big winner!) and sugar egg puffs for dessert! We figured we would only be here once, so we might as well try it all! We ended up making friends with the table next to us (the first of many such encounters during our two-week dining excursion through the Bay!) and shared most of our courses with the couple sitting next to us. They in turn, ordered the sugar puffs for dessert as a kind gesture for having shared our exorbitant meal with them. We rolled out onto the street with much admiration from the staff and patrons (we earned our stripes at this place!) and cabbed all the way back to the Castro just in time to catch the second feature. It's no surprise I fell right asleep in the aisles during the last screening!

The next day is a bit of a blur, but I think it started with breakfast at Brenda's French Soul Food in the Tenderloin. I had the most refreshing homemade watermelon iced tea and one of the daily morning specials that came with pork and grits; more tex-mex than Creole but still quite good. I would have liked to have tried one of the beignets or something a bit more French-Louisianna inspired like the hangtown fry or one of the dishes with crawfish or prawns, etc. but this was pretty rich and filling, if not the most interesting or unique to date. I really enjoyed this hearty morning starter, and we walked it all off through the Tenderloin and all the way down to the market building at the Embarcadero, where we had a cup of coffee at Frog Hollow Farm and browsed the many vendor's offerings. We then pushed along down the wharf. We stopped off at the Aquarium of the Bay which was a pleasant enough diversion but really nothing special, checked out Pier 39 which was tourist central (no surprise!) but still a lot of fun, and then walked down to the Musee Mechanique which was really neat! We bussed over to Smuggler's Cove (our favorite bar in SF... wel it's a toss up between that and Bourbon & Branch actually!) where we met a friend for cocktails. Turns out this place is only 5 blocks from our apartment and we knew right then and there that this would be a regular destination for evening nightcaps! We ordered about 3 drinks each (I ended up sampling half the rum cocktails before the end of this trip!) and then caught a ride with our friend over to the Castro to catch Gilda on the big screen. Then we headed down to Chinatown where we finally made it to Jai Yun after altering our reservation from the Chinese New Year closure the night before. There was a $50, $75, $100 and $150 per person dinner option, and I was told that the prices were based on the uniqueness, freshness and quality of ingredients, fish and produce being served. We opted for the $100 menu and what followed was about 18 or so courses of some of the more interesting regional Chinese dishes I've tasted to date, all served small plate tapas style, to be shared amongst the table. It was a wholly unique and interesting experience and overall quite tasty... but if I were to go back, I'd take up our oversized table at Shanghai in Richmond any day and fill it with the few remaining menu items we left off our initial visit! Overall, a great experience and one in whcih I'd definitely recommend everyone try at least once. Is it the best Chinese in San Francisco however? I'd wager not. But for an upscale multi-course dining experience, it surely offers one-of-a-kind service!

The next morning we bussed over to North Beach for a late brunch at Mama's and were seated promptly with no wait or queue at the door. I had an enormous stack of fluffy mouthwatering buttermilk pancakes loaded with fresh fruits, a separate fruit bowl, and a deliciously fresh-squeezed OJ. It was fantastic and I can understand why there would be line-ups on weekends. We walked over to Graffeo for some roasted beans afterwords, and then up to some corner cafe by the park for a few shots of double espresso to get us through the early afternoon. I should mention that we've been running on little sleep up to this point, and it was finally starting to catch up to us! We walked down to the Beat Museum which reminded me of a highschool gymnasium science fair complete with bristol board displays and glass cases containing cheap vintage girlie mags and pulps, the very same that sat in the magazine stand of my own bathroom at home! We slumped into some beaten up theater seats in the dingy backroom of the shop and began watching some PBS style dvd documentary of Kerouac's life before knocking off for an hour and waking up again with laughter realizing that we were sitting in this boring "museum" watching some guy's dvd collection on his boxy old crt television in the dark... we split and walked across the street to City Lights and then Vesuvio for whatever local was on tap, and got ourselves boozed up. Then we hiked up the Filbert Steps to Coit Tower, rode the elevator to the top and walked all over the hilly residential high streets of the surrounding area. After a quick stop at Molinari's delicatessen and a short record shop dig that turned out to be a bust, we cabbed over to Delfina in the Mission for an amazing dinner, despite the fact that neither of us had any appetite. A few glasses of wine helped to remedy that. I started with the proscuitto antipasti with warmed marinated walnuts and my friend ordered the grilled half moon bay calimari with white bean salad which was really outstanding and exceptional! I think he followed that up with some sort of dish that featured duck breast, and I got the risotto which was really rich, creamy and delicately textured. I completely forget how it was served, but I think it may have featured some type of local squash or pumpkin puree and possibly an accompanying meat like rabbit or something similar in a ragu. There were another two dishes ordered and both were equally wonderful, but at this point we were completely hungrover from food and drink, and too burned-out to have registered anything more, and so it shall remain a mystery until our eventual return... This was another one of my favorite meals in the city, and I only regret skipping out on the amazing looking desserts which all sounded fantastic! We had planned to walk up the street to Bi-Rite for ice cream after our meal, but instead opted to flag a cab and head straight back to Alamo Square to clock out for the night and catch up on much needed zzzzz's.

The next morning I managaed to sleep in and walked up to Alamo Square Park where I spent some time lingering on the grassy lawns in the sunshine, making friends with the dogwalkers, chatting with pretty girls and enjoying the scenic views from all sides. After returning to the apartment briefly to collect my friend, we headed down to Swan Oyster Depot for a late lunch. As usual, we spared no expense at the counter... a full sampler platter of oysters, little necks and sweet cherrystome clams with the spiciest horseradish sauce imaginable, a few pints of beer, two overwhelming seafood combo salads with heaping chunks of a variety of fresh shrimps, scallops, crab meat, prawns, and possibly more, all littered accross a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce and drenched in a delicious homemade thousand island dressing, and a couple orders of clam chowder. As usual, we made friends with the Hollywood couple next to us (who had been living offshore for 'tax reasons' and invited us out to an illegal underground gambling ring operating in the basement of some mechanics shop that weekend!) plus another family of ex-pat Montrealers on our other side who we bonded with over good food and drinks -- They passed down a plate of deliciously goopy dungeness crab guts which we easily helped them devour and sopped up with thick pieces of sourdough! We rolled out of Swan just in time to meet our pal for another round of cocktails at Smuggler's Cove. Then we drove back to the Castro for another night of vintage noirs and finished out in Oakland at some great old speakeasy jazz bar from the 20s with a terrific cocktail menu, where friends were throwing a record night. We hit the taco trucks (so far the better than anything we've had in the Mission!) and cabbed back to the city in the early hours to crash out.

The next day is another blur in my memory. I think I spent the morning with my girlfriend in the Mission after a hungover breakfast at Tartine where we ordered some morning buns, tarts, and gougères with gruyere, black pepper and thyme, which was a favorite of mine. I was also served an absolutely awful and bitter cup of espresso that tasted like it was pressed in somebodys gym sock. I didn't drink it. I think I spent a good portion of this day sleeping and resting at our apartment. I walked over to Japantown in the late afternoon to meet up with my friend outside Peace Plaza. We ate dinner at Ino Sushi and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had yet. We sat at the bar and didn't order a thing! We simply told the chef how hungry we were (we were starving!) and let him serve it up... did he ever!!! We spent about an hour at the bar and a hundred dollars per person from our pockets, but walked out completely satisfied with full stomachs. This was surely among the most authentic and freshest sushi I've had the pleasure of eating. The chef from Kyoto (if memory serves!) is exceptionally skilled with his knife and served up some of the tastiest nigri I've ever had. No fancy hand rolls, sauces, or chopsticks needed... we had about 15-20 servings from uni and hot unagi to several types of hamachi, maguro, hiramasa, toro, tai, saba, suzuki, ohyou, ankimo, hirame, and more... all sliced, dressed and served to perfection. Preparation was flawless and the fish was all so fresh, fatty and flavorful. I still dream about this meal and can no longer eat sushi in Montreal after experiencing Ino. I've spent time on several Hawaiian islands and eaten at some excellent and authentic Japanese sushi bars, but this was my favorite bar none. It's completely ruined fusion sushi for me here in the city and I can't wait to get back out the West Coast to try out Ryoko's, Sakae and others to compare. After dinner we hit the Castro for round (??) of Noir City and then drove out to Forbidden Island in Alameda to continue our tiki tour of the Bay Area! We ended up back in the Mission at a friend's dance night and stopped off for more latenight burritos; this time at either Taqueria or El Farolita - (I forget). They were good but nothing special. After a long night of drinking and dancing though, I'm sure they were the perfect fix.


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