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Restaurants & Bars 13

Report (day 1 and 2) of Van hound's trip to SF April 2008

grayelf | Apr 24, 2008 10:16 AM

First off, thanks to all the SF ’Hounds who helped me plan my eating itinerary (see link to original post here) for April 17-21. I read and reread every single response, and I’ve saved all the places in my “future SF” file that we couldn’t get to… now on to the food!

Day 1 (Thursday night) and 2 (Friday):

After securing our indispensable Muni passes ($24 for 7 days), we checked into the hotel and immediately made for Sam’s (374 Bush at Kearny) as it closes at 9 pm. We were seated by 8:30 and tried to order petrale and sand dabs, but the ’dabs were sold out. We both had the sole and J ordered a cup of clam chowder and a mug of Anchor Steam to wash it down. The sourdough bread was good but a bit burnt on the outside, and we found out that the kitchen had just run out of creamed spinach so things were looking a bit sad until the chowder came and was pronounced tasty. When the petrale arrived, all was right with the world. It was served simply grilled with two lovely roast potatoes on the side. The spinach was not missed, as the portions were very generous. I wish we could get petrale in Vancouver as it has definitely joined my list of fish happiness. We paid $50 plus $10 tip for this satisfying repast in a charming room. The server was attentive and helpful, gently correcting my mispronunciation of petrale which I appreciated (“We do hear it pronounced both ways” she said diplomatically). The atmosphere was definitely old school but in a good way, with the delightful curtained booths down one side of the resto and the slightly gruff maitre’d who spoke in Italian to several older gents who were obviously regulars. It felt old San Francisco-y to this visitor, anyway. A great start to our trip.

On Friday morning, we headed to Café Bean (800 Sutter at Jones) for an early-ish breakfast. This little coffee shop was recco’d by another visitor to SF on Chowhound, who failed to mention the Dutch connection (one piece of décor was a list of different kinds of hash and marijuana). J had the Dutch Smasher for $7.25 (melted Edam, fried onion, tomato, ham and over easy eggs on toast) while I went for the chicken apple sausage and eggs with toast for $6.95. The eggs were perfectly scrambled, the sausage was delicious (housemade or at least very local I think) and the toast okay. We saw some Dutch pancakes on another table that looked mighty tempting too. They were serving Chester’s coffee in the urns but something else for the lattes which J deemed very tasty. No lineup, tasty, creative food at a good price in a funky setting a short walk from our hotel – what’s not to like?

We then hopped on the Muni to the Asian Museum which is well worth a visit (nice museum shop also) before seeking out Taqueria Reina (1550 Howard at Lafayette). I had two tacos al pastor and one carnitas, and J went for the super burrito ($5.50) which came decked out like a Mexican flag on a platter. It was enormous (4”x4”x8”) and the quality suffered a bit from its size – too much rice, and a very bland enveloping red enchilada sauce per J and my small taste. The tacos were much more successful, with a slight edge going to the carnitas. We washed it all down with a mandarina Jarritos and a grapefruit Peñafiel (first one I’ve had outside Mexico) and waddled out for less than $20. Not bad but I think I’d tend to stick to the Mission for this type of food in future.

Our next target was the Deco Ghetto near Hayes Valley. Sadly, several Art Deco dealers have closed down but there were still a number to ogle and the quality was excellent. We continued on up into Hayes Valley proper to peek into Absinthe (398 Hayes) and drool at the sweet wares on offer in Miette Confiserie (449 Octavia Boulevard), which is a really gorgeous store. Our best find was True Sake (560 Hayes btwn Laguna and Octavia) where we indulged in three very different small bottles. There is nothing like this in Vancouver, and the staffer was most helpful in yet another stunningly laid out store -- see pic attached. We felt the call of Blue Bottle next and headed to their coffee kiosk (315 Linden Street at Gough) for a pick-me-up. J had the double latte while I went for the Gibraltrar, kind of a cross between an espresso and a macchiato as I was informed by the friendly staffer. I think that was the best coffee-esque drink I’ve ever drunk, and not just because I got a contact high from the amount of caffeine in it. We made like Italians and leaned on the counter to quaff our beverages.

Thus fortified we headed back via F-line to the Railway Museum and then to the Ferry Building to try a fleur de sel caramel at Rechiutti and to Sur la table for another Kuhn Rikon sheathed paring knife ($9.95, comes in several colours, great for picnics).

Our next gastronomic experience was the food highlight of the trip: Canteen (817 Sutter St between Jones and Leavenworth) for the coveted 7:30 seating. Having missed our chance in November, I booked well in advance for this tiny converted diner. It was a belated Valentine’s day dinner and Dennis Leary and his staff exceeded expectations. We started our Week 145 dining experience with a glass of white each (Chateau Guiraud Bordeaux Blanc Sauterne 06 for J at $6 and Domain Pichot “Le Peu de Moriette” Vouvray Chenin Blanc 06 for me at $8, a spot-on recommendation from our server which I’m hoping to find at home).

The amuse was a shot glass of crab puree which J polished off as I am allergic to crab. Then I chose the sand dab (yes, they had sand dabs on the menu, woohoo!) for my appetizer. The perfectly grilled ’dab came with a well-balanced salad of avocado, water cress and tiny potato cubes ($10.50) that was a great foil for the fish. I can now add sand dabs to my list of fish happiness along with petrale.

J opted to go straight for the main as his lunch-time burrito fullness was still lingering, and ordered the white sea bass with saffron fennel sauce and squid salad ($23.50). He enjoyed it very much despite the fish being a tad overcooked for the thinner bits. I selected the beef sirloin with white bean puree, porcini jus and braised greens with bacon ($24.25) -- see pic of both attached. This dish worked so well, with the meat juicy and flavourful, the beans velvety and well seasoned, the porcini jus rich but not overpowering for a somewhat reluctant mushroom eater, and the swiss chard providing a nice green taste with the little bacon bombs adding their smoky goodness.

We finished up with the croquettes (justifiably “back by popular demand”), squares of lemon curd rolled in panko and pan fried, then served with a citrus sorbet: oozy citrus madness. And of course the signature vanilla soufflé, brought towering to the table then stabbed mercilessly by the server and filled with crème anglaise. We burnt our tongues in our haste to get at this ethereal yet oh-so-rich creation. Hard to credit that all of this deliciousness, from apps to afters, comes from a kitchen the size of my closet. The three cooks have perfected a ballet of sorts to get it all done three times a night in an open kitchen.

So in case you missed it, this is a rave. It would be splitting the tiniest of hairs to complain but if I had to find fault, it would be that the recommended medium rare leaned closer to rare than medium on my beef, a slight issue for a maximum of two bites. The porcini jus could have been a mite warmer. And the music for part of the evening was a bit jarring and Irish-Roversy, but I’m reaching. For me, this meal was pretty close to perfection. The petite room is cosy and funky (you go to the youth hostel next door to use the ’loo), the staff are gracious and efficient and the whole objective seems to be to feed guests up real good with a bit of flair: my kind of restaurant. If it was in Vancouver, I’d be here once a month, minimum.

For day 3: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/512596

For day 4 and 5: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/512597

Blue Bottle Coffee Kiosk
315 Linden St, San Francisco, CA 94102

817 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

True Sake
560 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Cafe Bean
800 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Taqueria Reina's
5300 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94112

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