Wednesday the 27th was my birthday. Last week I decided that I would celebrate my birthday by going out to eat for every meal. That seemed like a good idea for about ten minutes and then I decided that three meals weren't enough...if we were in Spain, I'd get five meals to play with, so why not pretend? Holly and I worked out an itinerary, emailed some friends with the destinations, and went for it. Here's where we ended up.
At six o clock in the morning, we rose with our housemates Alan and Lara and rode our bikes over to Royal Coffee, just north of Claremont on College in North Oakland. Royal has the distinction, in my estimation, of being the best espresso joint in the Bay Area. They also roast their own excellent coffees. We sat and drank coffee and ate rolls and watched the neighborhood wake up and wander over.
Then we rolled back home and headed out to our next destination. The Fremont train to the Fruitvale stop, a quick pedal over the Tilden St. bridge and we were at Jim's Coffee Shop in Alameda. Jim's comes much recommended by fellow hounds as a good solid breakfast joint. And while I don't like to ride completely on first impressions, I must say that we knew it was "the place" as soon as we walked in the door and the warm diner grill aromas enveloped us. We ordered a little off the trad-diner track, but that's because they had not only a chili-cheese omelet, but a chile verde omelet as well! Everything homemade and delicious. The chile verde omelet came with jack cheese and a sea of pork-tomatillo sauce, with big fatty hunks of pork that weren't really manageable in an omelet, but had given most of their good stuff to the exquisite sauce. There is something about eggs, cheese, and tomatillo sauce that feels mightily whole -- the sharpness, and subtle sweetness, of the tomatillo balances the soft mild cheese and eggs, and plays up the textural similarities of the three. Our waitress pointed out that the (red) chili-cheese omelet is also available as a tamale omelet, with, yes, a homemade tamale rolled up in the omelet and smothered in chili con carne. So, for those of you who responded to my query a few weeks ago about working-class breakfast places, Jim's is exactly what we're after. We'll be back.
We biked and BARTed home and managed a bit of a nap before boarding the train to San Francisco and meeting several friends at New Vietnam Sandwich, at 426 Larkin, for a 1pm lunch on the giant concrete patio of the Federal building. This banh mi shop has gotten its share of laudatory reviews on these pages, and for good reason -- the sandwiches are consistent, magnificently delicious, and too cheap to be believed. I had the privilege and pleasure of gathering some friends together and turning them on to this Tenderloin treasure. It was unexpectedly delightful to send them in to the unassuming deli, with instructions to "try the barbecue pork." Everyone enjoyed it and I hope we won NVS some new customers.
Afterward, Holly and I coasted down to the main library to check on an exhibit we'd installed earlier this month (on the 5th floor, in the Stegner Environmental Center). We spent some time looking at two great exhibits on the 6th floor: a beautiful handmade books exhibit and a fantastic exhibit of vintage San Francisco restaurant menus and restaurant memorabilia. Ever the bargain hunters, we checked out the library's used bookstore near the Grove St entrance and found that the beautiful Ann Hamilton card-catalog-art installation on the 4th floor had been commemorated on several postcards, available for a dime each. We snapped up a few dozen.
Soon it was time to move on to our next meal, to "that new-ish tapas place on 24th and South VanNess," which is called Lorca. I noticed this place while walking by one evening and was pleased to discover that they seemed to "get" the tapas thing -- not only do they have fancy $6-$20 menu choices, they also offer montados y pinchos -- small canapes and skewers -- for $2 each, or a plate of six for $10. I ordered a cold dry sherry and Holly a Gimlet, and we perused the menu. The proprietor brought out a little amuse-boca consisting of two tiny slices of tortilla espanola with a little romesco sauce drizzled atop. It was excellent. We ordered a plate of six montados, including another tortilla espanola, a cabrales cheese and spinach canape, a manchego cheese canape, a pork tenderloin canape, a chicken and banana skewer deep fried in an almond crust (!!), and a cup of garbonzo/spinach stew. Some of the canapes arrived on pan con tomate, a classic spanish appetite opener of simple bread, tomato, and olive oil. We ordered a plate full of pan con tomate too. Several friends arrived to help us eat it all, and we ordered another plate of six, sticking to the original choices, and also drank our way through two bottles of very perky Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero: first a Crianza, and then a Joven, both from Viña Sastre.
The canapes were all delicious, meticulous, and creative. Especially enchanting was the cabrales and spinach canape, with the rich blue cheese smeared on bread and topped with sauteed bright green spinach. Also, the pork tenderloin canape was a standout, a tender slice of pork with a strip of roasted red pepper on top and a sprinkling of queso seco -- called chontaleño -- underneath.
A word about service, and the Lorca experience, from Holly:
We walked into Lorca at about 5:15--behind our schedule, but ahead of theirs. A gentleman behind the bar looked at us somewhat quizzically and asked us if they were open yet. We admitted ignorance, and we were all saved from our confusion when a woman wrapping an apron around her waist walked out from the kitchen area and said in the most welcoming tone that we should sit down. They open at 5:30, but she made us welcome, saying she was still gathering herself together, but urging us to make ourselves comfortable. (Note that while it's not clear when you walk in, there's a whole dining area in back. The front section is the bar, where music happens, and a few small tables.) She came right over to ask about drinks and smiled warmly throughout. When Patrick mentioned that he was in the mood for a glass of sherry, she gave a detailed review of the two they had on offer, and then added that there was a wine--Flavus--that was like a sherry that he might want to sample. She brought out two glasses, the sherry he'd chosen and the Flavus and we had a little tasting. He went with the sherry, and I later recommended the Flavus to the first guest who joined us. I ordered a Stoli Gimlet, up, which she wasn't familiar with. I gave a poor explanation, but stuck with my order to see what would happen. She brought over a lovely frosty glass with a pretty clear concoction in it. I tasted it, and the Cointreau I had recommended as a sweetener was on top, with a light tracing of lime in the background and really cold Stoli in the middle. It was no Gimlet, but it was gooood (and cold!).
That is only one example of the quality and warmth that imbued the experience of this lovely spot. One of the rarest qualities we find anymore in a restaurant is a true commitment to, and enjoyment of, the practice of feeding and watering the weary traveller. I was definitely weary when we came into the door, but soon felt, as one should, refreshed and cared for. It's no coincidence that the quality of the food and drink was also uniformly high, as the attitude of a place infuses its staff and its food.
Lorca is at 3200 24th St at South Van Ness, SF, and their phone is 415 550 7510.
Somehow we managed to drag ourselves out of there by eight o clock, to catch the train back to the East Bay and wind up the day with a late supper at Pyung Chang Tofu House, conveniently located within bloated-stumbling distance from our house in North Oakland. Several friends met us here too, and we shared a table full of panchaan along with several "soon" soft tofu stews, a batch of korean pancakes, and two grilled meat dishes -- bul gogi and spicy pork. The grilled dishes didn't do much for me -- i think I am spoiled by Koryo BBQ down the street -- but the tofu stews were beguiling as usual. I especially enjoyed the beef-with-dumpling stew. It was a good closer to a long day of eating, with many rich, warm, spicy flavors to fill the mouth and head with heat and savory bliss.
Thanks to all our friends for encouraging us and joining us along the way, and thanks to Chowhound for inspiring us to engage in this madness!
--Patrick and Holly