As James and I planned our trip around the world, I have to say that what I got excited about most was the thought of eating in all of these places. Bloggers like Meg, Heidi, and Adam got me especially excited about eating in the San Francisco area. We were most certainly not disappointed. So here, inspired by The Amateur Gourmet, is my pictorial review of the wonderful food that delighted us in Northern California.
Our first morning in California, we woke up in the Marin Headlands International Hostel famished having arrived at 10:00 p.m. — too late to find much open on a Sunday night without having driven at least 20 minutes on very windy, unfamiliar roads in the dark. We stumbled on a great little bistro called Caffe DiVino on a Sausalito side street, and had some tasty (albeit dripping with oil) egg dishes. For lunch that day, we had paninis custom made for us by the owner of Bella Luma in Petaluma, Craig Stammler, who decided that it was too boring for each of us to have the same thing, even though that’s what we had ordered. He didn’t let us down! We intended to go back for Palazzolo’s gelato (shipped across the country from Saugatuck!) later that night but they were closed by the time we got back. Weren’t too disappointed though, because our supper at small, classy Italian joint called Risibisi – a shared selection of small plates including caprese salad; spinach and arugula salad with shitake mushrooms, crispy bacon, shaved manchego, and balsamic vinaigrette; and hand-cut pommes frites with marinara dipping sauce – was scrumptious.
On Tuesday, after doing some wine tasting at Cosentino — which we definitely recommend, especially if Bob Silva is the guy out front guiding your tasting — we followed Bob’s suggestion and had lunch in downtown Napa at Downtown Joe’s. My reuben was pretty good as was James’ cheeseburger, but the most memorable part of the meal were the dozen miniature mugs that arrived at our table when we requested the taster of all their brewed-on-site beers. After lunch we drove back to San Francisco, checked into our hotel in North Beach, dropped off our rental car at the airport, then took public transportation back to the Financial District from which we walked back to North Beach via Chinatown. Upon arriving back in North Beach, we decided to grab supper at Caffe Puccini. Excellent decision! The spaghetti carbonara that I ordered was some of the best that I’ve ever had. And while James’ chicken parmigiana was a little dry, the fettucine with marinara that came alongside of it was just delicious. It was all pretty basic food but seasoned just right. The strawberry ice cream that I had to top off the meal was incredibly fresh. All in all, a good choice for eating in North Beach.
Wednesday started with a cable car ride down the hill and then a bit of a walk to the Mission District where we found on the corner of Guerrero and 18th one of the most anticipated stops of our trip to San Francisco: Tartine Bakery. After reading Adam’s description of the franginpane tart, I was dying to try it. And oh. my. word. It was fabulous. The crust was so flaky. The huckleberry filling was so juicy and fresh. And the almonds on top were toasted to perfection. I only dream of being able to bake something that good. James had the double pain au chocolat (made with Scharffen Berger chocolate) which was also amazing. And our mochas were perfect too – not too sweet. (We found that to be pretty consistent with mochas in SF. They know how to make them there.) We were tempted to buy a whole lot more baked goods in Tartine, but our eating in the Mission had only just begun.
After spending a good bit of time browsing in Modern Times, undoubtedly one of the coolest independent bookstores on the planet, we grabbed some coffee a few blocks down at Ritual Roasters. Lunch was at Taqueria Cancun where we shared the Super Burrito al Pastor (with marinated pork). Besides the meat, it contained rice, fresh cilantro, Mexican cheese, pinto beans, and avocado. Qdoba couldn’t hold a candle to this burrito. This was the real thing! One burrito is huge too, and was plenty for the both of us. After a bit more walking around, we stopped into the Dolores Park Cafe for some refreshment and journaling. Dinner on Wednesday was chicken kebabs, rice pilaf and spinach salad at the home of Dave, Kate and Ivan Austin-Groen: a treat to have a great home-cooked meal and terrific company to go along with it! After dinner, Dave took us to Mitchell’s Ice Cream, a San Francisco institution since 1953. Their flavors are fascinating! I wanted to try at least 10 of them. In the end I settled on the Halo Halo, a combination of Buko, Langka, Ube, Pineapple, Mongo & Sweet Beans. James had the Mexican chocolate. Good stuff!
On Thursday morning, we grabbed pastries and mochas at the original Caffe Trieste to eat on our way up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower. After our trip out to Alcatraz, we came back and walked along the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building where I had a soft shell crab po’ boy at The San Francisco Fish Company. The crab had that great fresh shellfish taste that made me think of going to my Oma & Opa’s house in Sayville, NY when I was young and eating stuffed clams. From the Ferry Building we got a bus to the Upper Haight and walked around there a bit, stopping to get online and have coffee at Rockin’ Java. We then walked 13 blocks down to the Lower Haight and stopped for Chimay at Toronado Pub, a recommendation from our good friend Adam who used to live in San Francisco.
Dinner on Thursday was perhaps the culinary highlight of the week: nouveau soul food at Farmer Brown. The amuse bouche was miniature jalapeno cornbread muffins served with maple butter – and intriguing start to the meal. I ordered the fried chicken with mac & cheese and southern greens. The chicken was wonderfully juicy, and I even allowed myself the indulgence of a little bit of the crispy skin. (C’mon – it’s southern fried chicken. You only live once.) The mac & cheese was made with Tillamook Cheddar, paprika, probably shallots and I’m not sure what other flavors but it was terrific. The southern greens was a mixture of chard, cabbage, collard greens and maybe some others, again uniquely flavored. James had the pulled pork sandwich which came with BBQ sauce on the side, cole slaw, and handcut chips. He thoroughly enjoyed his choice as well. Oh – can’t forget the angel biscuits. We ordered those at Dave & Kate Austin-Groen’s suggestion and were glad we did. They were light and buttery and just light years better than Pillsbury biscuits out of the can. Our only regret was that we didn’t have room for dessert, especially since from our first scan of the menu we had been looking forward to the key lime pie and strawberry rhubarb pie! We’ll just have to go back for those another time.
Friday was a day of going back to our favorite places from earlier in the week. We had breakfast at Caffe Trieste again and this time stayed there soaking up the atmosphere. We also went back to Ritual Roasters and Tartine Bakery. This time James had the jambon and gruyere croissant and I had the Idiazabal & Membrillo (“lightly smoked sheeps milk cheese with quince jam”) pressed sandwich. Soooo good! We also had a couple of Scharffen Berger mini chocolate cookies and a slice of Valrhona chocolate cake. We really want to take Tartine to England with us. Although if we lived around the corner from it, we’d both be broke and fat very quickly. So it’s probably just as well…
And after that, we were back to our hotel to get our bags and off to the airport for our flight to New Zealand with wonderful memories of our taste adventures in San Francisco!
More photos of our San Francisco meals and other highlights of our time there can be found here.
Next time… Eating our way through New Zealand!