I was in San Francisco a few weeks back (okay, a couple of months back, it's just taken me awhile to get around to this, sorry) and since much of the chow was chosen on the basis of ChowNews and the SF Chowhound Guide, I figure I owe y'all a report.
Jet lag and alcohol mix better than you'd think. Arriving into town from Toronto, I headed to my hotel, and then made my way to the only restaurant in the area that I really knew about - Thirsty Bear Brewing. I ordered their burger and a tortilla espanol. The burger was fine, if slightly overwhelmed by the bread. The tortilla was only sort of fine, and much more than slightly overwhelmed by the huge glop of aioli dumped on top. I'm pretty sure that was supposed to be a garnish. Beer (the Valencia Wheat) was good, though, and that's what I really wanted.
Then I joined up with a colleague there was a mad dash around various suburban environs looking for something interesting to do or eat. We wound up at the Buckeye Roadhouse, which was somewhere near Sausalito, I think. We tried a couple of items off the appetizer menu, an Ahi salad and the Oysters Bingo. The Oysters Bingo were fantastic - a really great, perfectly balanced dish with lots of deep flavours and a velvety smooth texture to a sauce I could have gladly eaten by the bowl. I thought the ahi salad was merely good, not great, because the bits and pieces in it were so large and not integrated that it was like salad surprise. Every bit would taste strongly of something or other, but there was no balance in the flavours. He disagreed, and said that was the point. Okay, fine, so it was the point. It just wasn't a very sharp point, to my way of thinking. The wine, I'm told, was very, very good. Tasted fine to me, but I know nothing of wine.
We also wandered by the No Name bar in Sausalito where we drank more beer. Great place, good atmosphere - the kind of place where you're a regular when you order a second round. We argued about food with some people on the covered patio, then a gentleman recited poetry to me and told me of his plans to reunite with the love of his life in war torn Iraq. I'm reasonably sure, despite the jet lag and alcohol, that all of this actually happened though it was pretty surreal.
Lunch at Chow. Better than average salad, wonderful raspberry lemonade. The hot chocolate was bizarre though, and I didn't try the eggplant, because, well, I don't like eggplant. It's icky. Shared a warm ginger cake with pumpkin ice cream and caramel sauce for dessert. That was entirely and utterly worth every screaming calorie in it. I knew it was going to be fabulous when I tasted the caramel sauce, which had a wickedly full flavour without even a hint of burnt.
Dinner at Kate O'Brien's because it was near the hotel. Non-descript food that seamed mostly to come from a box except for the house made ketchup which made you wish it had come from a box. Or a bottle. Or anywhere but from a little dish on your plate. It was bad. We didn't eat much of this food, and instead went to Roy's and shared an apapetizer platter and dessert. The ribs on the appetizer platter were really good, and the lobster dumplings nice. But for the price, half the plate shouldn't be a pile of cheap edamame. Roy's in Maui was really a much, much better experience, right down to the pineapple upside down cake that I loved so much there, and thought was good, but not great in SF.
Lunch at Chaat Cafe, chosen primarily for it's proximity to the office and inexpensiveness for my underemployed lunch date. I ordered the lamb naan which was rather greasy, but tasty, and the samosa chaat which was insanely good. Remember what I said about salad surprise and non-integration of flavours? Here it worked. All those different sauces playing against each other bite after bit, on a base of solid starchy samosa was fantastic.
Dinner was at Bistro Aix and it should have been good, but it wasn't. The flavours were well put together, bright, and tasty, but the actual execution on the dishes was shoddy. Gnocchi was gummy and bleh. Risotto was undercooked and not all the creamy rich texture you expect. Mashed potatoes were so overprocessed they may as well have come out of a box. Good flavour on top of bad texture doesn't make for great eating.
Presumably I ate lunch, but I have no notes. We did have pre-dinner drinks at 21st Amendment. I ordered a pomegranate cider that was just not as great as it sounded, sadly. Tart pomegranate and tart cider made everything toooooo tart.
Dinner was at Ti-Couz for crepes. Their seating system needs a lot of work (it's a good idea, I think, but the wait staff was just indiscriminately seating whoever they wanted anyway, so it didn't help). The crepes were great, though, and that pushed all thoughts of the crappy seating system out of our minds (okay, well, apparently not all thoughts, since I remember it now). I had the daily special crepe which had mushrooms and cheese and heavy salty sauce, followed by bananas and caramel for dessert. Delicious all the way around. We also shared one of the huge and wonderfully fresh salads for the table. Salads just aren't like that in Canada.
Lunch at Golden Mountain for dim sum. Lots of good stuff there, though a couple of dishes that were kind of bland. Including, sadly, the jelly fish. We chose it primarily because the woman pushing the cart was trying to give us some lame chicken dish. Too bad it wasn't actually good, as we had to eat a lot of it anyway, just to prove we weren't wimpy. The real highlight though, was the various buns. Steamed BBQ pork buns, and these Taiwanese style dessert buns that were lovely - filled with warm cream filling and a crispy crunchy topping.
Dinner was at Tap Phong for crab and garlic noodles. There was some garlic rice, too. It was all very garlicy. But in a good way. Loved the texture on those noodles.
A happy accident in zen navigation of the public transit system put us next to Chow again on the way home, and thus dessert was more warm ginger cake with pumpkin ice cream and caramel sauce. Still fantastic.
We were headed for a Brazilian place we'd seen earlier in the week, but ended up discussing Peruvian food with the cab driver, who steered us towards El Perol instead. It was my last day in town, and super busy, so I don't have much in the way of notes, but the things I remember most were the stir fry with french fries in it, and the cheesy potato salad like dish. A stir fry with french fries in it really had no business being as good as it was, but it was. It really was. Somehow the starchiness of the french fries fit right in.
I think this is the day we had macaroons, as well, from a bakery in the Mission, the name of which I forget. I realize it's not that helpful, and possibly even heartless and cruel, to mention that the macaroons were a rapturous experience, requiring much silence and eye closing to fully appreciate.
Dinner was a sad collection of whatever foodlike things I could find in the vending machines at the office followed by late night beer at Kate O'Briens, which isn't much for food, but does fine with beer.