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Seventh time lucky – long November 2010 trip report from Grayelf (Pt 2)

grayelf | Nov 24, 201004:33 PM


Up early the next day because of the time change and decided to head over to Canteen to try the Chupacabra. It would have been improved by the addition of a couple of corn tortillas but was quite tasty, especially the beans. After an eventful walk through the Tenderloin (three drug deals), I rendezvoused with J at the Mint Plaza Blue Bottle for another New Orleans coffee. J departed to meet up with his brother and I to the Asian Museum to avoid the hideous downpour and catch up with Vancouver friends.

From 2-6:30 we hit the Mission for a crawl set up with a few Vancouver food bloggers. We checked out Dianda’s cakes, Mr Pollo was closed as it was Sunday, hit La Taqueria for the controversial taco dorado ($3.50 hard sell on extras, $1.20 for no beans!), then Santaneca for 2 pupusas (rice dough is excellent, tons of food for $4), carnitas super at Guadalajara ($2.95) with guacamole, 7 tacos at Taqueria Vallarta (cabeza, buche or neck x2, chorizo, al pastor, lengua and the best one, saudero or tender beef at $1.50) carnitas torta at Los Picudos ($7 cut in half would feed two on its own), La Spiga de Oro for gigantic Guatemalan tamal ($2.95), banana leaf wrapped in parchment, 2x ice cream at Humphry Slocombe, malted dulce de leche, Boccalone prosciutto, Birite (no line!) crème fraiche, texture issues, salted caramel too soft, looked into Mission Chinese, great divey space, Yamo closed Sundays, Birite Grocery, Delfina too close to dinner, J car back to hotel, then to Incanto.

The dinner at Incanto was interesting. We were there with a group of food bloggers from Vancouver and so were able to try a lot more dishes than if we had dined alone. There wasn’t a single dish that blew me away, though everything was tasty. My favourite bite was probably the pork belly but it was on a par with the pork belly I had the week previously at home (Au Petit Chavignol). The pastas (I tried four: handkerchief, paccheri al nero, pipe rigate with duck and the spaghettini with cured tuna heart) were solid but not spectacular. We also had the Boccalone salumi platter which was tasty but not special. Service was decidedly odd, but that may have been because one end of our table was taking so many bounced flash pictures :-(. We ended up staying nearly an hour after the posted closing time in order to get our mediocre desserts because of a huge gap in service. Overall I would prefer to return to La Ciccia for the food, the cosier room and the welcoming staff but I’m glad I finally tried Incanto.


I woke up with some serious pain in my left ankle – turns out I had reaggravated an old injury by walking around for so many hours the previous day, doh! Luckily cynsa and her SO were picking us up for a day in Berkeley so I was able to kick back in the car. We prevailed upon them to stop at Sightglass for coffee on the advice of Seattle Hound dagoose. This place is out of the way but was worth a stop. I enjoyed the chorizo and cheese cornbread and the others seemed to approve of the coffee which I didn’t try. This is going to be quite a setup when the factory/roastery behind the small retail outlet is finished. We feasted on some tasty tamales procured near the flower mart I believe by Cynsa as we drove in the glorious sunlight out to the East Bay. We stopped to check out several architecturally significant buildings including two churches and a house and then went out to the Berkeley Botanical Gardens where we met up with local Hound Ruth Lafler. Despite my game leg, we managed to put in a good tour of this beautiful facility.

Then it was time for lunch. The game plan was to try a walk in at Chez Panisse. We were told 25 minutes, which gave us just enough time to try some of the famous potato puffs at Gregoire’s around the corner. The lovely fellow making my puffs (Bobby IIRC) said that Gregoire has been spending most of his time at the still-relatively-new Oakland outpost. He produced some delightful examples of their signature item which we all tried with a house made aioli and pronounced excellent. Upon returning to Chez Panisse, we were seated at a lovely table in the bright back room of the café after a short wait.

We opted to share two starters for the table, the La Tercera Farm chicories and persimmon salad with roasted fig toast ($9) and the famous pizzetta with wild nettles and pecorino ($14). The pizza impressed mightily while the salad was less special.

For mains, we ordered the duck confit x2, the clams, the halibut and the chicken. The confit replaced Becker Lane Farm pork sausages in a dish with sweet peppers, delicata squash and sage for $22 as they had run out. No one complained :-). The clams were from Tomales Bay and baked in the wood oven with basil and aioli for $19. I didn’t try them but the consensus was they were excellent. The Northern (is there Southern?) halibut was served with grilled Belgian endive, fried shoestring potatoes, chervil and Meyer lemon ($23). The halibut was cooked nicely but the standout for me was the potatoes. Last but not least, my Soul Food Farm chicken breast came lightly breaded and panfried with little turnips and salsa verde ($22). I don’t often order chicken when I dine out but I had seen this dish on another table and couldn’t resist. The chicken was cooked perfectly, so comforting and delicious, and a large portion to boot.

I like that they have a selection of non-alcoholic beverages that is clearly not an afterthought and enjoyed the D’arbo sour cherry fruit soda ($3.75) recommended by our capable, affable and unobtrusive server very much. There were beers and wines on the table that I neglected to take note of, though I believe the SO had the Russian River IPA from Santa Rosa out of the three available taps. We were too full for dessert and departed contentedly. I think I understand the allure of Alice Waters’ venerable institution, despite recent comments that laurels are being rested upon. Very glad we were able to fit this in with a minimum of fuss.

Next we hit the original Berkeley Bowl which just about made my head explode. So many varieties of produce and the parking wasn’t too bad, probably because of Berkeley Bowl West, which we drove by as well but didn’t go into. To round out our Berkeley day, we hit Chocolatier Bleu on 4th for some uber rich hot chocolate and checked out the great book, children’s and gardening stores. We were still full from lunch or I would have tried something at Tacubaya which smelled heavenly. Our wonderful guides drove us back to the hotel after dark. What a day!

After a brief rest, we decided to hit Don Pisto’s for dinner as the SO hadn’t had any Mexican grub on this trip. Sadly, I had neglected to note they were closed on Monday. So we decided to try Tropisueño even though most of the recs had been for their happy hour. Bad move. I instantly hated the setup, the menu, the bad lighting and cheesy music. J looked over at me and said “This isn’t going to happen, is it?” bless him, and we were off out the door to Poc Chuc. On our third visit, we were finally able to try the salpicon de res which was excellent and appears to be on the menu full time now. Panuchos and empanadas were my favourites from the platillo maya. A very satisfying final dinner after a false start.


We hied ourselves to Golden Au to sample the fare at Denis Leary’s latest venture. I loved the literal hole in the wall ordering and the simple menu. We tried an apple muffin (J is a big apple fan and it was moist and delicious), the egg and bean dish and the biscuit with ham and béchamel. I thought the egg dish was too soupy though the flavours were good, but I could eat that biscuit over and over again. And to ice the cake, Chef showed up just as we were leaving. Chow crush redux.
J wanted to have a coffee in North Beach so we wandered uptown and ended up at Caffe Roma, sitting in the sun at a sidewalk table. Not the most stellar coffee but quite respectable and good for people watching. Our next stop was the Marine Museum, then we hopped on the F car back up to FPFM for (another) coffee and a glorious glazed waffle ($3) at Blue Bottle plus a less successful item from the Cowgirl Sidekick milk bar, their raspberry concoction, which I found too sweet. At 12 noon we took a CityGuides tour of the Ferry Plaza building which allows access to the “upstairs” area – very cool.

That earned us a late-ish lunch at Green Chile Kitchen. We tried the house made salsas ($2.95 to get one large or try all four) which were nothing to write home about. The dinners were very tasty however. J went for the blue corn flat enchiladas with red and green chile sauce ($11.95 “Christmas” is $1 more) and I tried the chile relleno combination plate which had the relleno, a crispy taco, some chicken posole, rice, salad and beans plus a tortilla ($14.95). It was a lot of food and it was all tasty, though I wasn’t wild about my taco. The biggest surprise was the pozole which though served oddly on the plate (I would have preferred it in a cup) was delicious. I’d go back for a bowl of that and some sopaipillas (only available after 5 pm). This is a pleasantly situated restaurant with great big windows, a good place for a leisurely lunch. No table service. We also had a look at Green Chile Pies down the street but no room to try anything. Next time…

We then headed back to Union Square to check out the Paul Frank store, pick up our bags and BART off to SFO for a flight home that included feasting on a great big piece of focaccia that I had purchased earlier at Liguria and saved for the trip back. Great way to end another sojourn in SF.

A photo of the Santaneca pupusas, the salumi platter at Incanto, and two shots of Sightglass.

The first part of this report is here:

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