Monday, July 8, 2013

San Francisco - The Food

One of the many reasons I wanted to go to San Francisco is because it's known as a great food city. California has a grand tradition of using local, natural, organic, and sustainable ingredients in food and that makes me really happy. Missy and I really had one mantra when it came to eating on this trip and it was to EAT ALL THE FOOD. So we did.

When we arrived it was mid-day in SF, but it felt like dinner time to us and we were famished. We were called by the siren scent of the sourdough at Boudin Bakery on Fisherman's Wharf. It's all baked on site and you can even take a tour of the bakery.

Mmmm carbs.
We headed upstairs to their bistro, ordered some local beers and got to work. We shared the barbequed oysters, which were unique and delicious. Making an oyster taste like a BBQ potato chip is always going to be okay with me.


To get the full sourdough/local ingredient experience I then went for a dungeness crab cake sandwich on said sourdough. The sandwich was delicious, but it would have worked better on a roll. No big deal though. It was still delicious and hit the spot.


Since we ate "dinner" so early and on our time, we decided to get dessert at SF dinner time. We were bumming around Ghirardelli Square and after walking through the chocolate shop just to get the free sample, we decided on cupcakes from Kara's Cupcakes. I had a raspberry dazzle and a carrot cake (not on the same night ahem) and they were both yummy.

The morning before our epic walking tour, we knew we were going to need a substantial breakfast. We headed down the street from our hotel and into the Hollywood Café, which was already bumping at 8 AM or so. The breakfasts here are MASSIVE and they turn them out so fast. Nothing is lacking though. I had a Denver omelet, which came with a hash brown the size of the whole plate.


I managed to finish the whole hash brown and about 3/4 of the omelet and THEY. WERE. GOOD. The hash brown was so crispy and perfect. I want another right now. It was filling, but perfect since we were about to walk six and a half miles through SF. We didn't stop for lunch on the tour until almost 2 PM I think and I was totally satisfied until then. Lunch was at Hayes & Kebab where I had a delicious falafel wrap. I'm a little obsessed with falafels right now. That night we had dinner at a little place called Street, which friends of Missy's frequented. I had a mixed grill with some baby lamb chops, a sausage, mashed potatoes, and green beans and it was delicious.

Before heading off to Alcatraz on day two we just stopped at Safeway and got some bagels and yogurt. There's nothing wrong with a budget breakfast. After we were back from Alcatraz and back on land we made our way to North Beach, which is SF's little Italy. We had walked through on our tour and we both wanted to come back. We went to Giordano Bros. for lunch, where all of the sandwiches are served "Pittsburgh Style." That means they have French fries, cole slaw, and provolone cheese on them. This is a GENIUS idea.


I had the sweet Italian sausage and it was ridiculous from start to finish. My mouth is watering just looking at the photo.

Surprisingly we still had room after eating two gigantic sandwiches so we went down the street to Stella Pasty & Café. While on the walking tour our guide made sure to point out Stella and tell us that they have a cake that is totally unique to them. It's called Sacripantina, which means sacred bread in Italian, and its exact recipe is top secret, trademarked, locked in a vault, etc. We knew we had to have it.


The cake is made up of layers of vanilla sponge, zabaione, cream, and rum and it is magical. It's so light and fluffy and it melts in your mouth. I could have eaten another piece even after my Pittsburgh sandwich. I will risk nausea for cake.

Dinner that night was one we had planned. At the beginning of this year, Barefoot Contessa did a series of shows in Napa and on one of the episodes she went down to Wayfare Tavern in SF to get a lesson in steak cooking from chef and owner, Tyler Florence. You may know him from such networks as the Food Network. He's all over it. He's not bad to look at either. I was sold.

The restaurant is stunning and I named the décor Revolutionary War chic. Have a look at the website to see what I mean. Instead of a bread basket we were served warm popovers that were flaky and delicious with heaps of heavily salted butter. For an appetizer Missy and I shared the burrata, which was served with eggplant coponata, warm figs, and sourdough and is was so SO good. Dipping bread in burrata is such a simple and satisfying pleasure.


For my entrée I had salmon with fava mash, pancetta, uni butter, and smoked bread crumbs. Everything going forward in life should have smoked bread crumbs on it. This was delectable, but very rich and very worth it. Earlier in the meal we had seen another table get their dessert which came on a glass-domed board which the waiter dramatically pulled off to release a cloud of smoke. Honey smoked cheesecake. We had to have it.

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Is that not the coolest thing ever? It also was one of the creamiest cheesecakes I've ever had and the smoky flavor was not overpowering at all. Yum yum yum. Wayfare Tavern got four thumbs up from us.

And now we're ready to talk about the Ferry Market.



I had seen the Ferry Market on the same episode of Barefoot Contessa and I knew I couldn't pass it up. I believe every shop is locally owned and there is an amazing farmer's market outside on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. We went for breakfast on our last full day there and pretty much just ate our way from one end to the other. We started with New Orleans style iced coffees at Blue Bottle Coffee, which were delicious, but STRONG. Probably just for me, though, because I'm not really a coffee drinker.


Next up was a Nutella bomboloni, which is just Italian for donut, which was INSANE. I wish I could eat one every day. I had a cheese and onion empanada next, which is equally as delicious. I bought some macarons for the road because there was nothing else I could stuff in me at that point. There were so many beautiful shops and yummy food, though, so I have lots more photos.

Tasty salted pig parts. Simple and to the point.
Zillions of mushrooms.


TCHO Chocolate is on another level.
Cowgirl Creamery

Some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes.

The Ferry Market is a must go if you're into food. I keep describing it to people here as "Quincy Market, but good."

We did some shopping in Hayes Valley after the Ferry Market at stopped to have lunch at The Grove, which was great. We shared some chicken nachos, which were fresh and delicious and not at all like the greasy plates you get in sports bars, and I had a glass of watermelonade, which was unique and refreshing.


We saved room after our nachos because we knew that Smitten Ice Cream was just down the street. We had been on our walking tour and needed to go back. Smitten is ice cream like no other. It started as a girl pulling a homemade contraption on a Radio Flyer that froze ice cream on the spot with liquid nitrogen. Her Radio Flyer evolved into a shop that is located in shipping containers in Hayes Valley that has a line out the door from morning until night.


The ice cream is frozen on the spot so there's a bit of a wait, but it's totally worth it. On our first trip there I had olive oil ice cream with lavender shortbread. Olive oil ice cream sounds scary, but it was delicious. The second time we went I had a big bowl of classic vanilla with cinnamon cookie crumbles and it was unreal. This is the creamiest ice cream I've every had and I'm day dreaming about eating some right now.

Lastly, I must talk about the meal of the century. Well, my century. I had read about Coqueta in a magazine soon before we left and we both agreed that we wanted to try it out. Coqueta is owned by Michael Chiarello of Food Network, Napa Valley, Next Iron Chef, and Top Chef Masters fame. I believe this is his first foray into Spanish tapas and he should keep going. This was the best meal I've ever had in my life. I did not take any photos because I knew it was going to be epic and I just wanted to focus on eating and enjoying the food. Here's a link to their menu. I did snap the cocktails because they were gorgeous - I had a gin and tonic with grapefruit and Missy had sangria.



Here's a rundown of what we ate (I hope I can remember everything): Pintxos of Jamon Serrano, manchego, and apricot and chorizo, roasted artichokes, and piquillo pepper. A cheese board consisting of several Iberian cheeses, marcona almonds, olive oil crackers, and quince paste. Tortilla Andres, which had sweet onion, potato, asparagus, and piquillo pepper aioli. Some incredible pan con tomate. Tattas bravas, which were stuffed with jamon (basically a tater tot with ham but GOOD). Grilled razor clams, which were AMAZING and from Maine! Grilled pork and duck albondigas (meatballs) with dried cherry which were THE BEST THING I'VE EVER EATEN. Seriously they were spectacular and I want to eat them every day. Next we had a rice dish, which I believe was called arroz crema and then it was time for dessert. Let me back track a little.

When we first got there we were seated at a counter right on front of the open kitchen (cool), but the stools were the most uncomfortable things ever. They were tiny and had no backs. It looked like there were tables available so we asked to move. While we were waiting to see if a switch was possible, actual Michael Chiarello came over and introduced himself to us. I died a little. The restaurant is still only 9 weeks old so the boss is there often making sure his machine is well-oiled. We chatted for a bit and made some jokes and decided the counter was going to be a pretty good spot after all. Michael chatted to us throughout the night and answered questions. He couldn't have been nicer. He seems like a hard ass on TV and we saw him be pretty firm with some of his kitchen staff, but I'm sure that's just because he takes his profession very seriously. Which is the way it should be! Anyway, we had seen him make a dessert with liquid nitrogen for another table and.... we had to have it.

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That's Michael making our frozen strawberry rhubarb gazpacho with fresh berries and strawberry soup. It was other worldly. And because that wasn't enough we finished with some manchego cheesecakes with caramel popcorn. It was an EPIC meal from start to finish and worth every single penny we paid for it.

We're best friends now.
I know I've only touched the tip of the iceberg of SF dining spots, but I think we did pretty well on this trip! Food is good, people. Food is good.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

San Francisco - The Sights

So San Francisco. I knew it would be awesome, but I had no idea just HOW AWESOME. What an amazing city! I took hundreds of photos so I'm just going to start throwing them up and explaining along the way. Don't be alarmed when you see no food photos. There will be another post all about the FOOD.

Our hotel was right on Fisherman's Wharf and after we (my friend Missy and I) arrived at about mid-day last Tuesday we hit the ground running and were treated to views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge right away.








On our first full day we took the most incredible walking tour called The Real SF Tour. I found it on Google a few months back when we were planning the trip and almost every review on Trip Advisor was a five star review. And now we know why! It took nearly seven hours and in those seven hours we covered 6 1/2 miles, went to 14 different neighborhoods, took a cable car, buses, the subway, walked up and down those famous hills, and saw so many hidden treasures that no one who isn't a local would know about. It was worth every single penny and I would recommend it to anyone who is up for an urban trekking adventure!



There is an actual fortune cookie factory in Chinatown and it's awesome. Free samples :)

The Zeotrope - Francis Ford Coppola's property


That's an original Banksy!

There were amazing views at every turn!

The flowers and landscaping on Lombard St. are the most beautiful I've ever seen.


A gorgeous Spanish-style courtyard at the Art Institute of SF
This is an original Diego Rivera mural at the Art Institute.
The view from the roof of the Art Institute, which is open to the public when the school is open
 


It was really great to be in The Castro on the day DOMA and Prop 8 were shot down! Cars were honking their horns, music was playing, and everyone was happy happy happy!
The famous Painted Ladies!
It has been a dream of mine to go to Alcatraz for a long time and I'm so happy it came true! I studied crime and justice for six years in college and grad school and I have a "thing" for prisons. Weird, I know. But it's extremely cool even if you're not into prisons. I think! Even if you're not jazzed by the prison, the ferry ride over provides some incredible views.


Missy and I in front of the Bay Bridge
Be prepared for wind. A lot of wind.
After Alcatraz was closed in the 1960s, Native Americans tried to reclaim the island and the original graffiti is still there
A lot of the buildings have fallen into disrepair, but they're still pretty cool looking


Imagine having this view and not being able to go to there. That's part of what made incarceration at Alcatraz so bad.
The area around the hole (where ventilation grates were) is worn down from inmates trying to chip away at the wall. Creepy. 
City Hall is a beautiful building and, like our Massachusetts State House, the dome has real gold leaf.
There's a lovely carousel at Pier 39!
There was one lonely little sea lion laying out in the sun! Maybe it was too warm for the rest of them.
And then there was this beauty!

This trip was everything I wanted and more. The weather was absolutely perfect the entire time and the people were so nice. Someone told me yesterday that San Francisco had the #1 spot for snobby people in the U.S., but I didn't think that was the case at all! I already have a list of things I want to do there for next time. Because there will be a next time!

Have you been to SF? Any hidden gems I missed?