Amongst other reasons for my first trip to San Francisco a couple of weeks ago was the chow. Who could resist a weekend of eating in a town so noted for its dining scene?
Breakfast the first day was a write-off. There was no time to look, and so it was a toss up between the horribly overpriced hotel restaurant and the horribly overpriced hotel Starbucks. Starbucks won by virtue of being fast.
Lunch was at The Flytrap, chosen 50/50 for its proximity to where we already were and for its outstanding breadbasket. And the bread really was outstanding, especially a dense, dark, walnut spiked bread.
Appetizers were oysters rockefeller (good, I thought, but I've never had that dish before anywhere so it's a bit of a blind judgment) and dungeness crab cakes (tasty, with little filler and a sweet, salty, tart (but not tartar) sauce, tremendously good, and I have had these in a lot of places so I feel fit to judge that).
Mains were a veal tortellini and the hangtown fry - which I was assured was an authentic San Francisco dish dating back to the goldrush area. It certainly beats out the authentic food of the Cariboo goldrush (bacon, beans) with tender oysters embedded in a thick omelette. The fries on the side were only okayish unless they were dipped in the sauce from the tortellini which elevated them above the average.
The veal dish was excellent, with a well flavoured filling wrapped in a firm wrapper that seems to owe its texture almost as much to dim sum gow as to Italian pasta. A rich but not heavy brown sauce covered nicely.
Dinner was at Patio Espanol (2850 Alemany Blvd, 416 587 5117), though I couldn't even begin to tell you where that is exactly, all I know is there was much driving and thinking we were lost without actually, at any point, being lost. A party of six, we opted for a tapas approach adn ordered a wide variety of small plates, accompanied by jugs of dark, strong sangria.
Mushrooms in a white wine sauce were subtle compared to many of the other, mostly tomato based dishes, but were excellent nevertheless, and every last drip of sauce was mopped up with bread.
Mild chorizo fried with peppers and onions was my favourite dish - and I don't like peppers or onions, so that's saying something. I returned to it again and again for just a few more tastes.
A seafood main that was ordered for the table came with saffron rice so infused with flavour that you could smell it from the other end of the table.
Lightly battered calamari was perfectly finished - neither rubbery nor slimy.
I should probably mention the tripe served in a tomato sauce with chorizo that was as much soup as sauce. All of that served to mask the tripiness of the tripe, which really appeared only as an occasional spongy bit in sea of other things. I thought it was merely okay, and that it might have been better served by a protein able to hold up to sauce. That was not, however, the majority opinion, so your mileage, as they say, may vary.
There were a variety of other dishes, as well, serrano ham on a tomato pasted bread, potatoes with aioli (not potato salad, it was insisted), croquettes de bacalhau (excellent sauce with this) and several more that I'm sure I'm forgetting (uh, did I mention the Sangria? It was quite strong).
For dessert, we sampled flan, fried milk (a very delicate custard fried and dipped in cinnamon and sugar) and a bruleed cheese custard that was creme bruleeish in appearance but much denser, richer and more flavourful than creme brulee ever thought of being.
I spent the next morning wandering around near my hotel, and after a morning of nibbling on a bit of this and a piece of that at various bakeries along the way, I ended up at the Thirsty Bear brew pub for lunch. The soup of the day, a spicy garlic and onion soup with tomato accents was balanced by the crisp, citrus notes of their belgian wheat beer. Wild mushroom and goat cheese tart was set off by a slightly sweet, but far too thick, pastry crust. The accompanying greens were almost entirely undressed. With tapas sized dishes, 2 made for a pleasantly filling lunch.
Dinner was at Sultan with my game geek friends. We started with samosas and chicken rolls - greasier than they really needed to be, but otherwise good, with generous fillings and balanced spice.
Our dinner choices were chicken vindaloo, lamb korma, palak paneer and something else that I forget, with a couple of orders of fresh, hot naan to go with. Vindaloo was out of my spice range, but the korma was more my speed. Great mix of flavours, especially with the distinct flavours (especially the almond) clearly tastable, which is a rarity in my usual Indian haunts. The palak paneer had great, clear flavours as well. The naan was excellent - crunchy and chewy and piping hot.
Breakfast the last morning fell back on Starbucks, as I was once again very late, and it was very much faster than the hotel restaurant was likely to be.