"Is San Francisco still boring?" A friend of mine asked when I told him I was there, and it totally short-circuited my brain because I have no idea how anyone could think that. Granted our trips there were years apart, but in my opinion it's one of the liveliest places I've seen (not that there's anything wrong with peace and quiet-- they both have their benefits). Perhaps it's because there's been considerable growth of the food scene in the interim. I'm posting this slightly ahead of schedule to give Caitlin a better idea of what to expect or search when she goes there. As it turns out, it opened my eyes to even more things I still want to see/eat when (not if, hopefully) I return! (... and please don't badmouth my anonymous friend, I won't allow it.) Above is a photograph of the always-lively Sur La Table at the Ferry Market Building.
Here are only 3 of the walking routes I took searching for my food treasures. What I don't show is the Southern route I took walking from the 24th St. Bart station to the murals, and the Northern route I took from Westfield, through Chinatown, Transamerica Pyramid, and North Beach to meet Marvin for Italian. And yes, these walks take between 30 minutes to an hour at normal pace, not counting stopping and taking pictures. It's the uphill part that kills me!
Here's a serendipitously dramatic shot I took from the platform of the Muni. (Yes, the photo is altered and cropped so the thoughtful-looking young man is brought to the fore. My other candidates were the old couple in front, but the man was wearing earphones. Funnier than it was dramatic.)
Last year, Thip recommended Yasukochi Sweet Shop. I'm glad to have gone there, partially because it brought me to Japantown, which is just about the most beautiful area in downtown San Francisco (see, I do like peace and quiet). I saw Paper Tree, a great Origami and stationery specialty shop. Yasukochi Sweet shop is located inside the Japanese grocery, and it's not quite what I envisioned (which was dorayaki, mochi, wagashi, pan), but a simple, humble bakery. I got the blueberry turnover, and it was looovely, taste tickled my mouth-- but it was not blueberry. I'm not well-versed with more uncommon (non-commercial) American berries, but it could have been Boysenberry. So I love you, anonymous berry.
Walking a little further, I saw La Boulange, which contained Bay Bread. I was excited to try my first canelé, but oh! There was a huge air pocket inside. I don't think that's supposed to happen, and of course Duncan confirmed it for me. I did love the rich caramelized crust and the sweet, slightly eggy center, though. And the pear and cranberry tart was perfect-- all the way down to the soft, yielding crust.
My hidden Southern route also brought me to Omnivore Books on Food. I'd already maxed out on cookbooks in the weeks past, so I wasn't able to buy anything, but there's plenty of imported (still English) books, but the main attraction is I think the antique books. Also, Flo Braker, my baking hero (since I watched her on the Learning Channel, she reminded me of my Botany teacher) was scheduled to give a talk, but I could neither buy a book (even if I didn't have to), nor did I have the time (it was my last day in SFO).
The Western route takes you through Paulette Macarons, and it is arguably one of the best shops for macarons in the United States. And how could it not be, since all the staff was French and they were following Christophe Michalak? The violet cassis, raspberry (OMIGOSH), and dragée macarons were out of this world, but the caramel salé one was a wildcard-- it seemed a little harder than the rest (even if the taste was gorgeous). The staff was also fantastic and allowed me to take as many pictures as I wanted.
I wanted to eat good dimsum (though I hear it's still not as good as Vancouver), and for some reason instead of Daly City's Koi Palace, me, my aunt, and my grand-aunt ate at Ton Kiang-- but the food was still top-notch for me. It turns out, I can't get my relatives to eat certain things ("YOU DON'T WANT DUCK?!?!") so I was ridiculously stuffed! I mean, look at that duck! We also had nol mai gai, ha gao (can't NOT!), jin doy, siu mai, chow fun, golden fried squid, and mango pudding. Man, I wish I could teleport all the food I couldn't stuff into my face anymore right here right now. The third good dim sum recommendation is Yank Sing, which was unfortunately closed when I went (afternoon, you see).
Another place I really wanted to eat in last year was Saigon Sandwich Shop, and man, did I discover WAY too late in life the thing that makes Todd and Diane sing. I'll be VERY impressed indeed if there's a better banh mi out there. Satisfying lunch, marred only by having to listen to some aggressively boring girl talk about auditioning for The Real World even though she think she's too cool to know what it's about. (Never heard of it, yet auditioned. Really now.) There's only one table inside, so have somewhere to sit-- Jefferson Square and Japantown are nearby. Best cheapest lunch, ever!
My aunt also wanted me to have a slightly more upscale dining experience (even though I have crowned myself king of cheap dining options), so she took me and my uncle to Absinthe Brasserie and Bar and of course I wished I drank! But the meal was nothing to scoff at-- I had the frisée, baby leeks vinaigrette, house-smoked bacon, fried duck egg, fines herbs, and caviar (my first time!), which was out of this world (but probably Tuesday for Heather). Also here is a slow-cooked pork shoulder with beans, flatbread "pizza", squash soup, panna cotta with meyer lemon gelée, blood orange sorbet, and warm chocolate and banana tart with roasted banana ice cream. Sublime from start to finish.
The Eastern route is something I wouldn't recommend without a car, because the walk from the Civic Center to Patisserie Philippe is crushingly boring, unless you consider empty buildings scenic. The walk back, which led to the Museum of Modern Art and some cute coffee shops along the way, was much better. I ordered the "Obama" entremet (heh), which frightened me a little because it had coconut mousse, but I'm pleased to say I quite like it. They could've improved their macaron recipe, though. I didn't try them but they were seriously lumpy, I didn't want to!
One more restaurant we ate in was Crab House at Pier 39, which I realize is a huge tourist trap. I enjoyed the salad more than I did the crab-- sorry, but it's just way too expensive ($100 for four people just for the crab), and I've had better (cooked by my grand-uncle, also in San Francisco).
So, that's most of the memorable places I ate in San Francisco. More notable ones include Marnee Thai (one of the best Thai restaurants in California, and great prices too), Castro Tarts (recommended by Celia, the owner of Omnivore Books, though I didn't go), and a few more I wasn't able to go to: Pizzeria Delfina, El Tonayense (a very good taco truck), Zuni Cafe (went last year), Shalimar (Pakistani food), Slanted Door, Pagolac, A16, Liguria Bakery, Tortas Boos Voni, Shin Toe Bul Yi, Incanto, and Piperade. All for next time!
Also check out: 100 Things to Try in SF Before You Die