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Seventh time lucky – long November 2010 trip report from Grayelf (Pt 1)

grayelf | Nov 24, 201004:10 PM

Thanks to this thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7369... we put together another satisfying Chow trip to SF Bay Area in early November (actually our 7th, not 8th, but who’s counting?). We arrived a half hour late for no apparent reason besides lack of staff (yay Air Canada) and had to hightail it up to the hotel to check in to room 417 and still make our 7:30 reservation at Canteen with two Vancouver foodbloggers in town for Foodbuzz. Luckily there was no line at the Muni booth and the dinger was waiting for me.

Thursday night:

We arrived in time but overheated as it was still about 70 degrees and muggy out, the remains of a heat wave, having bumped into our DCs on the way. We had three of the four starters including crab and sole quenelles ($12.95) with one of Chef Leary’s signature purees, this one cauliflower, and two salads. Mine was celery root, teviso and ham remoulade ($9.50) and the SO’s was lamb’s tongue and artichoke ($10.95). Our DC’s opted to try the chanterelles in phyllo ($19.50) and the choucroute garni pork tenderloin (which I had too; $25.50). SO went for the white bass with a spinach, leek, kale and green wheat ragout ($24.50). The pork was the standout but we were happy with every dish. We cut to the chase and ordered two vanilla soufflés upfront. Another great meal at Canteen. After a wander around Union Square which was full of people enjoying the unseasonably warm weather, we picked up some Fage yogurt for breakfast and so to bed.

Friday:

At 9:45, local Hound Cynsa arrived to drive us to the Legion of Honour. She got us in safely and then disappeared with a jaunty wave and an exhortation to call her if we got done early. Now that is a Hound to treasure. We headed in to the café for a latte and yogurt, then toured the Japanesque exhibit which was exquisite. If you like Japanese prints and/or Impressionism, get thee hence. The Edo Hiroshiges were particularly stunning.
After a quick tour of the rest of the museum, we headed down to meet Cynsa, her SO, chowfun Derek and dagoose (a Seattle Hound) for lunch at Shanghai House. You can read about that and check out a few pix here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7452...
What a fantastic way to get our Chow on and despite a last minute venue change… I’m going to be thinking about that order-ahead salt and pepper pork knuckle for quite a while. I wonder if it’s available at any of our hometown Shanghai restos?

Cyn and SO generously offered to drop us off in Golden Gate Park so we could catch Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay which we were able to get into at a discount thanks to Cyn again. It is the only North American stop and we felt we shouldn’t miss it but we both much preferred the Japanesque exhibit, even if it is pretty cool to have seen Starry Night. We walked through the park to catch the N Judah back toward Union Square. J headed back to the hotel and I went to Nordstrom’s to buy PJs for him (they are hard to get in Canada). We stopped for a quick glass of wine at the nightly wine tasting where a guy from Calgary admired J’s purse (he was holding mine for me).

After freshening up, we grabbed the J car to the Castro and Frances. They have a very strange seating pattern. Having insisted we take a 7:15 reso (not 7:30) the place emptied out completely after we were seated and stayed empty for nearly an hour. Then there was a big crush at the front door. Weird. We started with an amuse of almonds cooked in oil. My riesling and J’s Magnolia Wheat Ale were good but very small pours. We then went for both bouchees and appetizers. The beet salad ($6.50) J ordered he found boring but I liked it, especially as it was served with avocado, a combination I hadn’t thought of before. My Applewood bacon beignets ($6.50) were fine but not spectacular, maybe a little underdone. I preferred my roasted celery root soup with sauteed baby turnips and sunchokes but could have done without the chicken confit which was overkill and tasted a bit stale ($8). J’s light and airy ricotta gnocchi with chanterelles and rapini ($12) was much more to my taste, though again I thought the addition of cherry tomatoes was a bit pointless.

The food overall here was okay to nice, with one exception. The bavette steak I ordered was too tough to cut with a steak knife, which the waiter brought after I struggled mightily with the regular knife initially provided. The whole dish was odd, with the butter beans tasting smoked and a bordelaise sauce that tasted more like bottled bbq sauce. The waiter noticed my displeasure and offered to refire or for me to order something else. I opted to go with the risotto with lobster mushrooms and summer squash ($17) which turned out to be delicious. By the time it arrived (quickly and piping hot, to everyone’s credit) J had finished his chicken with polenta, kale and apple ($24 a bit boring, apples were not really discernible), and the kitchen must have realized this would mean him staring at me as I ate so they sent out a lovely complementary side of crispy delicata squash with pickled black currants and fennel (would have been $6). This was a nice gesture and was perhaps the standout of the night. Too bad we couldn’t finish it as we were too full. No pix as it was too dark. We strolled around the Castro (fuzzy blue bike!) then caught the F Car (Philadelphia) and the dinger home.

Saturday:

Arrived at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market at 9:20 am with Blue Bottle and gougeres from Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick in our sights. I got a steamed burnt caramel milk which was delicious. The gougeres ($3.50 each) would have been better without the filling (one was savoury, the other sweet) which was kind of gilding the lily. Served “as is” I think they could give the ones at Tartine a run for the money. After a quick tour of the market and a grape purchase, we headed out to our favourite Art Deco antiques store near Hayes Valley but alas it wasn’t open yet at 11:30. We went for a stroll along Hayes, noting the massive line at the Linden Lane Blue Bottle and the recently installed Let’s Be Frank hot dog stand there. Looks like the True Sake folks are having a major battle with their cell provider… Next stop was Burmese Kitchen for lunch with two Vancouver blogger pals.

It was a very good lunch but not quite as stellar as previous visits – could it be that Dennis is dumbing things down a little? With four of us we were able to try a broad assortment of dishes including the goat curry, and I found generally the dishes, particularly the salads, didn’t have quite the brightness I remember. After a trip back to the Art Deco store and a quick non-eating stop at the McCoppin Off The Grid (would have been tempted by the sisig tacos at Hapa SF despite full tummy but they were sold out) we caught the 22 up Fillmore to Fraiche. Fraiche is now fully engaged in composting (they weren’t on our last visit), and is serving Blue Bottle coffee, including my favourite version of their New Orleans iced. Yogurt was just as good a year later, very smooth and nicely tangy. I even liked the pumpkin flavour which was offered as a sample. After some crossword puzzling and Wifi-ing (it seems like everyone in SF has Wifi), we caught the 1 bus back to the hotel, thanks to a random friendly San Franciscan who told us to wait on Sacramento instead of California, where we took note of the new location of Pizzeria Delfina for future reference.

After a brief respite, we headed out on the L Taraval underground to Old Mandarin Islamic for a Chowdown in the outer Sunset. We haven’t spent any time out here and really noticed the extra wide streets and the uniformity of the buildings. This resto is kinda in the middle of nothing but houses. After an unfortunate 50 minute wait, we were able to claim our reserved table. You can see the writeup here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7454...
I loved the chile dish, sour green sliced fish soup and the cilantro bean curd, and thought the shredded pancakes and the veggie pie were very worthy. There were a few less successful dishes but overall a great if frenetic dinner. Thanks to Ruth for organizing! We were once again lucky to get a ride back with Cynsa and her SO.

Part 2 of this report is here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/749402

Here's the Canteen pix.

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