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Restaurants & Bars 17

Voluminous report from grayelf's spring 2012 trip to Bay Area

grayelf | Apr 30, 201203:40 PM

With steering from this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/838958 we had another topnotch gastro-time in SF. Here's my LOOOONNGG report with some photos.


Rain and high winds in SF meant closing TWO runways, delaying us enough to miss our 7:30 reservation at Canteen. Wah! A full-on dining tragedy was averted, however, by a phone call to tell the lovely folks at Canteen to cancel and another to book for later at Lers Ros. Our DCs also leapt into action and offered to pick us up at the airport which was above and beyond. Consulting my research, we ordered 6) Nuer Tod (fried sun dried beef), 14) Som Tom Khai Khem (green papaya salad with salted eggs), 26) Yum Pla Duk Foo (fried catfish), 62) pork belly with crispy rind and 103) Nuer Pad Prik Thai Ooan (beef with young peppercorn and galingale). We had tried 6), 14) and 62) before and they were as good or better than previously, particularly the sun dried beef which was more tender than last time. For me the standout was 26) which is hard to explain but easy to eat. The catfish is in tiny pieces caught up in a gossamer web of deepfried crunchiness. Along with the bright and zippy dipping sauce, I could eat a barrelful. My least favourite dish was 103) despite the presence of my beloved green peppercorns on the stem. There was some other flavouring in there that didn’t appeal to me but I believe I was in the minority. Another stellar meal at Lers Ros and the cost was as usual extremely reasonable, about $25 each all in and including a couple of Thai iced teas and a beer. Next time I’ll be sure to try the nam khao tod I was reading about on a recent thread. No photos as we were at a darker table.


Our first coffee stop of the trip was Fourth Wave on Polk at Pine. As they only have Latin American beans, I had a Guatemalan pourover which was quite tasty. The SO was rather less impressed with his cappuccino ($3), characterizing it as “strong old school.” Full marks to this café for a comfortable and spacious setup with a surfing theme and welcoming staff who even greeted one of the local denizens of the street by name. They get some of their snacks from Sonoma Muffin Works in Sebastopol and we tried a more than adequate breakfast burrito with spuds, eggs, bacon, jack and cheddar ($4). We also noticed a little diner nearby advertising Canadian bacon and eggs for $6.25 called the New Village Café (1426 Polk) that might bear investigating on another trip, but today our next stop was a revisit of Contraband Coffee just a few blocks away, where the SO had a cappuccino made with Illicit Espresso ($3.25, more citrusy and less gnarly than last visit was his assessment). We lounged in the sun awaiting our lunch companions to head over to Sotto Mare in North Beach.

We had planned on deep fried pork hock at Shanghai House but alas they were closed for vacation. Sotto Mare turned out to be a worthy if rather different option. I had been wanting to try the simply prepared fish here for several trips. It lived up to the hype, especially the petrale which was cooked perfectly. Each dish was $19 and they were all generous portions, even the black cod which is a more expensive fish. I would go back for sure but would share a dish, as I donated half my slightly overcooked sand dabs to our DCs for a kedgeree or some such the next day :-).

Our next target was City Beer as we had heard about their great selection. Since it was quiet the ’tender kindly offered us a couple of tastes and a half pour for me of the 2009 sour they had on draft called Ommegang Zuur ($7 for the regular 7-ounce pour). They don’t usually do this apparently. He was knowledgeable about sours, explaining why bottled ones are worth trying and pointing me to the Russian River offerings, one of which we were able to secure on Friday. The SO had a full pour of the Auburn Alehouse nitro Porter ($5 for 12 ounces) which he thoroughly enjoyed, pub carpet flavour and all  It’s a cozy spot for a brew, and I like that they’ve converted old beer barrel staves into skinny chalk boards that announce what’s on tap.

We also poked our noses into Pinkie’s/Citizen Band since it is on the corner. These look like great options in the nabe, especially the fried chicken and biscuits, the pork belly poutine with house made (!) cheese curds and the daily rotating cuts of “red waddle breed” pork at CB.

Then it was off to Chile Pies on Baker to try the lemon buttermilk (1 slice, a scoop of Three Twins Tahitian vanilla ice cream and four forks). The pie was very good, not too sweet and with a very short and crunchy crust – I usually dislike crusts on restaurant pies but this I ate. Also loved the slice of baked lemon on the top to nibble on. I thought the ice cream was too sweet but my vanilla-ice-cream-loving SO disagreed.

By the time we headed out to Local Mission Eatery it was starting to rain, which was just the appetizer for the main course of a wild thunderstorm and torrential rain that went on all evening as we gazed out the picture window at it (we heard later it flooded several businesses in the area including Humphry Slocombe). Quite the floor show to accompany a lovely meal. We started our official date night of the trip with a glass of wine, a 2009 Pinot Noir from Paul Matthew in the Russian River Valley ($14) for the SO and a 2009 Chardonnay from Broadside in Paso Robles ($10) for me which went particularly well with the mains. Armed with some recent suggestions from local Hounds, we went with two of the “bites” to start, the kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and pancetta along with the marinated squid, white beans, pickled peppers and mint ($7 each). I preferred the sprouts and the SO the squid so that worked out but both were well executed. We followed with two small mains (they come in two sizes), the polenta cooked in whey with poached egg, goat gouda, smoked braised greens and ricotta ($12), and the grilled quail with wheat berries, beets, asparagus, pea shoot pistou and jus ($13). The whey was perfect comfort food and I adored it. The quail we took a flyer on and it was a good call, with the tiny bird bits done perfectly, even a little crunchy skin on there. I’m a bit of a sucker for wheat berries and these were expertly prepared. Because we’d been warned about sizing, our careful ordering allowed us to indulge in two desserts from Knead Patisserie which were both worthy. There was a roasted strawberry “delice” with meringue, lemon and almond that was good but not mind blowing (the meringue was a touch overcooked). The winner for me was the milk and honey beignets which were light and delicious with caramelized walnuts that were pralinesque heaven. We also had lovely Red Blossom teas that were brewed properly, huzzah. I chose the caffeine-free elderflower osmanthus and the SO went with black Xin Gong Yi. No pix because it was a date night.


On Friday morning, we headed over to farm:table. I had read that some people feel the portions are small for the price but to me the value is in the quality of thefood. The room is also as tiny as reported (see photo of wee interior) but perfectly comfortable for an hour-long sojourn. They have lovely glassware here and the coffee is quite decent, Verve for the drip/pourovers and their own Colombian roast for the espresso. I tried a house-name drink called a Tenderknob ($3), a four-ounce version of the five-ounce Gibraltar. I had heard that they were stocking Starter kouign amann Friday to Sunday only (they don’t seem to have a working phone line so I couldn’t confirm ahead what I’d read online) and sure enough they had strawberry ones ($4). Not as rich as the plain one I’d tried previously at Coffee Bar or the hazelnut to come (see Friday) but still very tasty. We shared a goat cheese frittata ($8) that was light and delicious, the spuds on the side well cooked and seasoned. We also tried a roasted veg “gratin” with a (too soft) poached egg ($8.50) – I could eat that veg all day. The chef had repurposed yesterday’s potato soup to make it which probably explains the lovely herbal notes in it. I plan to return here on our next trip as it is the closest café to our hotel that has good coffee, great pastries and tasty savoury options.

We hadn’t yet made it to our favourite café, Blue Bottle Mint Plaza, so that was the next target. I tried a Nel drip for $6.50 (the most expensive coffee I’ve had yet) and enjoyed watching the extraction. This Japanese process takes 12-15 minutes and yields a four-ounce cup of coffee (in this case Abakundekawa Coe from the mountains of Rwanda). Its hallmark is low, slow heat, and the handle-less Heath cup (http://www.heathceramics.com/cook-din... -- let’s hope they get them wholesale!) is also heated. It is higher acid than many other coffee beverages I was told but does not taste overly sour or citrusy with no bitterness. The resulting drink is quite syrupy and thick, and doesn’t need sugar or cream, though I tried adding some at the end and it was also delicious.

Check out the report on our lunch at Cotogna ($101.50 for 3) already posted here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7536.... I was charmed by the huge piles of firewood in every corner. Here’s a pic of some plus one of the beer and the dessert to supplement mariacarmen's shots. After some window shopping, we stopped at La Boulange on California for a not-great kouign amann, this time chocolate. The SO nabbed the last one for me, and granted it was late in the day so that may have affected the quality but I would venture this is not a top contender. I also have to say the proliferation of LB’s is not doing the ambiance any favours – this one feels kinda corporate.

Since I have been haunted by memories of the nam khao ($9) at Vientiane in Oakland since first trying it in November of last year, we arranged a revisit with the redoubtable Oakland Hounds. Some beef jerky at the counter became our amuse bouche – really thin and meaty with a hint of sweetness. We were seated immediately at 7:15 and my only complaint was that the room was quite chilly. Service was cheerful and efficient. Our target dish was as good or better than last time and I made a pig of myself. The sai ooa or Lao sausage ($2.50 a piece) was even better than before, spicier and softer. The mok pa (steamed catfish, $5) was delightful as before and we were all quite taken with the som pa or whole pickled fish ($7) that had a unique flavour and texture. The one Thai dish we ordered was from the specials menu, the roast duck salad ($10.95) which ironically I did not find very special but it was tasty. We also tried the som pak (pickled vegetables, $3) and a bowl of the kao soy noodle soup ($5.95) that as advertised was even better with a sprinkle of powdered tamarind soup base (!). We supplemented this feast with brown rice, jasmine rice and sticky rice and I had a Thai iced tea with less mix and more milk. All this was $60 for four pre-tip and there were leftovers. Really outstanding.

After dinner we picked up a Russian River Consecration sour aged in Cabernet barrels at the giant Oakland Whole Foods near Grand Lake – at $18 pretty pricey for a bottle of beer but worth it. It went very nicely with the Lush Gelato that we purchased from their store on Piedmont in Oakland. We tried stracciatella, espresso and my favourite, balsamic mascarpone and graham cracker ($7 a pint when you buy more than one). This gelato is very worthy, smooth and creamy, with big flavours.

Pix below: Fourth Wave, sand dabs and petrale at Sotto Mare, Zuur at City Brewing, lemon pie at Chile Pies, inside of farm:table, "Tenderknob" drink at f:t, fritatta, kouign amann and veggie dish at f:t, Nel pour and finished product at Blue Bottle Mint Plaza

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