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Restaurants & Bars 2

Report on May 1-3 chow trip

CPaul | May 9, 200508:16 PM

Thanks to Melanie Wong, Robt. Lauriston, and Krys for responding to my 2/11 question re: cheap/quality eats near Union Sq.

This tourist’s commentary contains references to Borobudur, Pakwan, Shalimar, Cowgirl Creamery, Dottie’s True Blue Café, Cioppino’s, Darbar, Hog Island Oyster Bar, Swan’s Oyster Depot, Zuni Café, Golden Gate Bakery, Cityscape.

My wife attended a conference May 1-4; we stayed at the Parc 55 near Powell and Market Streets. I planned most of my eating and free time around Chowhound recommendations, with the exception of the exceptional Borobudur at 700 Post St.

Sunday, at the Ferry Building, we sampled and bought superb cheese (Red Hawk) at Cowgirl Creamery, great semi-sweet, milk and mocha chocolate at Scharfen Berger. Had a wonderful stir-fry veggies Indonesian dinner at Borobudur, because Pakwan and Shalimar – recommended here - looked shabby and untidy. If you’re hungry or eat a lot, get Borobudur’s veggies with tofu, which is bigger than the stir-fry. I was looking forward to Pakwan or Shalimar, but I have no regrets because there are so many clean, high-quality/low-price, clean and inviting, and did I mention clean, Indian places in Philadelphia and south Jersey.

Monday, first in line at Dottie’s True Blue Café. The black bean cakes - recommended here - with poached eggs were good, but the cornbread toast was a bit dry (and too much after the bean cakes). Wife said fruit plate was superb. After walking around Union Sq, Chinatown, and Telegraph Hill, I found myself starving at Fisherman’s Wharf, certain that I would not make it up the hills and over to Swan’s before patience ran out. So I had a nice white wine flight and crab cocktail at Cioppino’s, 400 Jefferson St. By the time I made it to Polk St, I was too full for Swan’s but I had a savory, spicy, tender and juicy seekh kabob at Darbar, 1412 Polk St. Thanks, Chowhounds.

Took BART to the Ferry Bldg for the dollar-an-oyster Monday (5-7 PM) at Hog Island Oyster Bar. Great views, atmosphere and service. Turns out only Sweetwaters and Atlantic were at the $1/per rate. Since I didn’t know the types, I had a sampler dozen, 3 Sweetwater, 3 Atlantic, 3 Kumamoto, and 3 French Hogs. None of these were particularly memorable, except for their briny taste and small size. Maybe I should have had the Cold Creeks which looked big.

Tuesday’s oyster experience was much better with big Blue Points at Swan’s Oyster Depot. The crab cocktail, though drenched in too much sauce, was a better value, claw for claw, than Cioppino’s. I can also recommend Swan’s super-fresh smoked salmon. I went in the afternoon, 2:30 or 3, and several seats were available.

Dinner at Zuni Café – wife’s bluenose bass was outstanding. I wish I had ordered it instead of the duck, which was tasty, but IMO, inferior to the bass. I enjoy seafood, and IMO, this bass dish was tops. Initially I was disappointed when we were seated way in back with an unlovely view over Rose St, rather than over Market St. Actually it was nice and quiet, almost private. A little pricey for my usual standards, but great cuisine, good wine by the glass (chenin blanc and house red #2) plus friendly and expert service made this a nice occasion.

Golden Gate Bakery: decent almond cookies. Custard cakes were OK, but are inferior to the Portuguese ones I get at Lena’s bakery in Philadelphia, which admittedly are different in style, smaller, firmer and more baked. Wife thought the moon cakes were ‘just OK’. Wishes she could remember the name of the place in Oakland’s Asia town – near city center - where we got outstanding moon cakes and other goodies in 1998.

I had to leave 1 day before my wife (Ravi Shankar concert back in Philly – he’s 85, so this 41-yr-old had to see him once, and hopefully again). I encouraged her to take her colleagues to Bocadillo’s for someone’s 50th b-day, but b-day girl “doesn’t like Spanish food.” (Ugh! – ed.) They went to Cityscape, and reported the food was just “OK.” Wife says it was expensive, which we knew from going there on Tuesday just to look at the views (and menus, with wine lists loaded with expensive Cakebread, Duckhorn, etc.); she had lame crab cakes, with a stringy, unpleasant texture. I agree with her that a place like this should have wonderful food, not just “OK” and certainly not lame. One redeeming point - Cityscape apparently makes a superb margarita.

Folks at the Napa Valley Winery Exchange, 415 Taylor, were alternately friendly and pompous. But I bought Regusci olive oil and some of the under-$20 wines.

Next time I’ll hit Bocadillos, some sushi places, and maybe Mario’s Cigar or any of the places along Columbus which smelled so wonderful when I walked by. Or if I win the lottery, Plumpjack, Piperade, Tadich, Anjou….and will definitely return to Cowgirl Creamery and Swan’s with or without the lottery!

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