Monday, January 22, 2007

How I Ate My Way Around San Francisco Bay - November, 2006

Where do I begin?? I just got back from a phenomenal food-centric weekend in San Francisco. We had the best time - eating on the high and low end, seeing friends and soaking up that peculiar brand of San Francisco smugness that is only tolerable because it is - as much as we So-Cal folks hate to admit it - well earned.

The orgy of eating started with Oola, on Folsom South of Mission (near Lulu) on Thursday night. They are famous for their spare ribs, which I literally could not get enough of. I'm a sucker for ribs to start with, so when I heard that they were the speciality of the house here - along with good cocktails - I was sold. We ordered an appetizer portion, which was one apiece, and then had to order more. Turns out the ribs are braised and deep fried, which is what makes them taste so good. The recipe was actually published in Food and Wine back in January. I would say it's probably something best enjoyed occasionally, and the arduous process is best left to the professionals, but if you're really feeling ambitious, here is the link.

The following day, we pointed North to meet some friends for brunch in Mill Valley at the Dipsea Cafe. The food wasn't very memorable, but it was great to see our friends. After a nice long visit, we headed up toward Napa. Our first stop was Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, a beautiful chateau-style winery just past Gloria Ferrer on the way to Napa. We did a three sample flight of their sparkling wines and pinots, and were so taken with their 2002 Brut Vintage and Pinot Noirs that we joined their Chateau Society club. They will send us a bottle of champagne and a bottle of red wine (generally a pinot) every other month. Seemed more than doable to us. We also get good discounts on re-orders and on wines purchased at the winery - which we took advantage of on our first order of six bottles - one of which we brought with us and the rest of which we shipped home.

After that, we were ready for some lunch. After our late breakfast and long visit, we had canceled our 1 PM reservation at Redd in Yountville. Instead, we headed to the Taylor's Automatic Refresher near St. Helena. I must have driven by this place a dozen times when I lived in Northern Cal (from 1995 to 1998,) but it never seemed to be much more than a little roadside burger stand. Somewhere along the line, it morphed into a hip little gourmet spot - something like the West Coast version of the Shake Shack (or so I imagine since I haven't been there.) Here in San Diego, we have Johnny Rockets and Ruby's, but somehow this is better. You order at the counter in front, and then seat yourself at one of the picnic style tables, either in the front or in the pleasant, grassy, tree-shaded area out back. I chose a chicken club sandwich - with swiss, bacon, lettuce and tomato on grilled sourdough, and James had a bleu cheese burger. We ordered sweet potato fries and onion rings, and each had a good glass of wine - since we were, after all, in the Wine Country. I ordered a glass of Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc, always a winner. The food was very good, though next time I would order the sweet potato fries without the funky chili seasoning, it tasted like Old Bay, and I have a thing about that. I'd also be curious to try one of their milkshakes - they looked really good.

By the time we made our way through the traffic and stopped for coffee at Dean and Deluca in St. Helena after our late lunch, we were staring 4:00 PM in the face. We drove down the lane to visit the Niebaum-Coppola winery - but were appalled to find that they were actually charging visitors a tasting fee simply to park and walk in. We turned right around and left. The only reason to go there anyway is their gift shop which carries Francis Ford Coppola's personal favorite items - like Rhodia notebooks and Amedei chocolates. We were kicking ourselves that we hadn't made plans to stay overnight in the valley, but it was too late for that now - so we headed back down to the City where we were staying with our good friend Tom.

We had reservations for dinner at Michael Mina, and we had told ourselves that we would go, having missed our lunch reservation, but after our day of fun we just didn't have the energy. Instead, we chilled down our bottle of Taittinger Brut, and enjoyed it in front of a roaring fireplace, along with a delivery pizza.

One of the things I knew I definitely wanted to do on this trip to San Francisco was go to the Ferry Building Farmer's Market on Saturday morning. I got up bright and early (by my standards anyway) on Saturday, and headed down there to meet the lovely Sam, of Becks and Posh - who had graciously agreed to give me a tour. Sam shops the market every single week, essentially doing her marketing there rather than in the stores. How I wish we had that luxury in San Diego! By the time I got to the market at 9:05 it was as bustling as Los Angeles International Airport - to my horror and delight. How great that people are patronizing the market, but my goodness - the lines were twenty people deep for the restrooms!

We met near the Sur La Table store, and headed out on a tour of Sam's favorite stalls, including the Fatted Calf (where I bought a 12 dollar salami!) and the Dirty Girl produce farm, where Sam picked up a box of tomatoes. We also looked over the food stands, and some of the shops inside. I bought some delicious cannelle (my first!) and cookies at the delightful Boulette's Larder (which came packed in a cute little bentwood basket), some Humboldt Fog, aged gouda and a Beaufort style cheese at Cowgirl Creamery and a still-warm baguette and almond croissant at Acme Bread. We also visited Recchiuti Confections (where Sam insisted on buying me two to sample - no need to twist my arm!) and the Slanted Door's elegant takeout stand, called "Out the Door" where we purchased our breakfast. Half of a Saigon Roast Pork sandwich (a lovely incarnation of a Bahn Mi) and a "Blue Bottle" coffee for me, and summer rolls for Sam. Coffee probably wasn't the best choice of beverage, given the chile sauce I slathered on the sandwich - but I needed it and it was delicious nonetheless. I highly recommend this as an eating option within the building. It's right across from the Ferry Building branch of Taylor's Refresher. After bidding Sam adieu, I toured back through the mall portion of the Ferry Building and went back to Michael Recchiuti to buy some gifts and a few more of those fabulous chocolates for myself. They are almost as good as my favorite L.A. Burdick chocolates - but being from California, they are more local which gives them an edge.

Next on the agenda was a visit with my "oldest friend," Moira. Moira and I are the same age, but we've known each other since we were four. We don't do a very good job of keeping in touch - I think it had been about two and a half years since we'd seen each other, and almost as long since we talked last - but really, what's two and a half years when you've known someone for more than thirty? I picked her up at her place and we popped down to the Fillmore to do another one of my foodie errands - picking up Parisian Macarons at the Bay Bread Boulangerie on Pine. By that time we were ready for a light late lunch, so we stopped by Chez Nous, a cafe on Fillmore which serves mainly small plates. I opted for mussels with curry and coconut milk and frites, while Moira had a souffle-like omelette. It was lovely, and gave us a chance to catch up.

On Saturday night, James and our friend Tom and I put on our Sunday best, and went down to my favorite restaurant in the whole wide world, Boulevard. I have never had a bad thing to eat or drink in this restaurant, and it did not disappoint this time. I started with my favorite cocktail - a "Boulevard Pink Limonade" - made with Bacardi Limon rum and pink lemonade. It sounds a little silly, but it's just so delicious. I started with an appetizer of dungeness crab salad with avocado and tobiko caviar, my husband ordered the scallops with pork belly and Tommy had the foie gras. They were all good, but the scallops were exceptional. Tommy had ordered them for his main course, and I changed my order from the squab and short rib entree after tasting them. James ordered a halibut dish that came with a "carbonara" made from shaved hearts of palm and oyster mushrooms. It was interesting and delicious. We then ordered three desserts, since they are always so good. The "Naughty Mascarpone Creme Brulee" with gingerbread and huckleberry sauce, an apple cake with apple fritter ice cream, and an ice cream sandwich assortment. When they arrived, I realized that the sandwiches were made with the same vanilla ice cream I made from their cookbook, and served with the same hot fudge sauce - which did not diminish my enjoyment of them in the slightest. I almost licked the hot fudge ramekin clean.

On Sunday morning, we wound up our trip with a visit to Le Petit Robert, a bistro in Russian Hill that I read about on Rorie's blog, Milk and Honey. Like Chez Nous, it is owned by the Bay Bread people. James and I had "Croque Madame" sandwiches and Tommy went with the Petit Robert burger - both of which are served open faced. It was very good, but we were puzzled by the lack of croissants or pastries. None were offered which seemed a bit strange for a French bistro serving breakfast.

I didn't make it to the East Bay on this trip, but I would love to go over there and visit Shuna at Poulet, and check out my old haunts in Rockridge. I'd also like to do another Wine Country tour, with a bit more time to spend, and hit some "Old San Francisco" spots for the sake of nostalgia. I am planning another visit this winter, so we'll see what develops!

Here are a few of my favorites from this visit:
Oola's ribs
The Saigon Roast Pork Sandwich at Out the Door
Cannelle and salty chocolate cookies from Boulette's Larder
Fresh french baguette and almond croissant from Acme Bakery
Fleur de sel caramel and peanut butter pucks from Recchiuti Confections
Scallops with pork belly at Boulevard
Mussels with coconut milk, curry and lime at Chez Nous

Special thanks to Sam, for not only hosting me on a delightful tour of the market, but for telling me how to make these cool collages, and to Tommy, for letting us stay with him at his fabulous house!

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