By: Sheen Fischer
Well, the va-cay is over but the memories (and the lbs.) still linger. Picking up where we left off in Santa Barbara, we rented a car after having enjoyed the Surfliner from San Diego and continued our trek up the coast.
So, while the only food available at our next stop was cafeteria style and not really worth blogging about, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Hearst Castle should be a “must” stop on any tour of the California coast. They offer multiple tours of different areas of the estate, all docent guided and it is a quick hour and a half that should not be missed. Pictured here is the underground Neptune pool, one of the more spectacular items in an over-the-top spectacular, real American castle.
A few hours farther up the coast is the beautiful peninsula of Monterrey. From a foodie perspective, Fisherman’s Wharf is a must. On our first trip here about 5 years ago, my son and I had a contest to see who could eat the most free clam chowder, as almost every ten feet on the wharf someone is trying to lure you into their establishment with samples. I think we lost count and our appetites around fifteen samples, but the chowder here is, by far, some of the best you will ever try.
San Francisco is considered by many one of the top culinary destinations in the country. From well established dining on the more formal side to small pop-ups and cutting edge gastronomy, you can literally walk down the street, throw a rock and likely hit a great spot that you’ve never tried before.
We started our eating adventures the first evening at Frances, known for their California cuisine with an ever changing menu. We decided to take a short break from seafood and go with the land based fare on this evening, featuring the tender Bavette steak with charred broccolini and vegetables (no further description needed, it tasted even better than it looks)…
…and this delightfully crusted, seared, crispy tender Sonoma duck breast.
Side note here: I’m only going to hit the highlights of the meals, restaurants and imbibing on this trip due to the sheer volume we experienced.
A quick day trip to Sausalito had us strolling past the venerable Trident, restored to newfound foodie glory by our own Chef James Montejano, now executive chef of La Jolla’s La Valencia Hotel.
On any trip to the City by the Bay, regardless of the number of meals you have to take advantage of (we figure two solid meals per day with multiple foraging and snacking stops), there are some stops that should simply be included. Thanh Long, located on the far west side of the city in the “Avenues” is one of those. At any given time, this place is packed and every table has pretty much two things on it – their spicy garlic crab and garlic noodles. The noodles are good and mainly a filler. We had a crab each and it was more than enough food with a rich, aromatic and pungent flavor.
It’s rare to see a cloudy, overcast, rainy day in Napa Valley. While we enjoyed the weather, the growers did not. Stressed grapes, as most moderate to serious wine drinkers know, make better wine. And stressing comes from warm temperatures, lots of sun and little water. An overabundance of moisture can make for a poor tasting crop as well as cause issues such as mold that can devastate a harvest.
For our Napa tour, we signed up again with Evan and Max over at Max Napa Tours. They are both level 2 sommeliers who specialize in private, intimate tours. They have established relationships with some of the best wineries in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys that do not open their doors to the general public. Tours include hotel pickup and drop off, maximum group size of 6 people and access to the winemakers, properties and small production wines that are impossible to find anywhere else. Knowledge about anything wine is encyclopedic from these two – in fact, it was on our last tour a few years ago that Evan taught me how to evaluate and taste wine properly, setting me on my current course of all that is food and wine – the tasting skills carry over to food…lucky me!
Lunch in the valley was accented by these Crispy Bay Anchovies served as an appetizer at Angeline, a southern, Cajun inspired restaurant. I know what you’re thinking – I was thinking the same thing. These were not the oily, overly salted, cured, fishy, slimy things you’ve seen on other people’s pizzas. They were refreshing and crisp with a nicely seasoned batter and only enough fish flavor to remind you that you weren’t eating French fries.
Dinner that evening turned out to be one of the best of the trip, with us getting perfect seats at the two person dessert bar overlooking Fillmore St. State Bird Provisions is an American Tapas restaurant. I’ve been ranting to anyone that would listen for the last couple of years that ‘Murica needs more small plates and tapas and fewer 24oz. ribeyes. It’s my theory that is why sushi is so popular, you can order a few different items, share them and experience more foods in one sitting.
Now, I just feel dumb. State Bird Provisions nailed the concept perfectly, so basically I’ve been ranting that we need something that already exists. Anyway, they for sure get special mention and more than one pic posted in this blog.
I’m going completely from memory here, because each of the plates is rolled by dim sum style on a tray or cart. A quick description is provided by the server and then you say YES. We literally did not turn down a thing all night – probably to the tune of 12 – 14 small plates. These, I believe, were a kimchi and chile oil embellished oyster plate. On a trip replete with seafood, these stood out as some great oysters.
This burrata stuffed sourdough bread tasted like a buttery, cheesy doughnut fell in love with a creamy, tender croissant. ‘Nuff said.
I honestly didn’t know that the California state bird was Crispy Fried Golden Quail. I do now, though, and I’ll never forget it. This is the house specialty at State Bird Provisions, cleverly named State Bird with Provisions. See what they did there? All you need to know about this dish is to order it. Stat.
There’s a little coffee and pastry cafe called Emporio Rulli right in Union Square on the southwest corner that makes a quick, straightforward cappuccino (and other coffees) and has a nice selection of light treats, including a decadent chocolate eclair. It’s a great place to sit on the patio, read the paper, send texts or emails and people watch for an hour or so in the morning if you’re so inclined. As they say, location is everything.
Looking to knock out a few birds with one stone, we took a foodie walking tour through the Mission District. During the tour we saw some of the gorgeous street murals by artists that have bargained with the gangs and taggers in the area so that they will not deface the murals. In essence, one of the best, most colorful and artful ways to protect and beautify the area is to paint relevant and culturally significant art on the buildings.
Narrowing five or six great offerings on this Mission District foodie tour down to one for the sake of brevity was a challenge, but it always helps when there is a hands down winner. This savory muffin from the Craftsman and the Wolves involves some type of alchemy where the perfectly soft boiled egg is embedded into the bacon and herb infused batter and then cooked to the exact needed degree of temperature for the exact to the second amount of time to create this beautiful nugget of self-contained breakfast. Word has it that these sell out quickly – no matter where you are in the world, these are worth the trip for even a half of one. In fact, we googled how to make these and one blogger claims that after 48 attempts he was successful. I’m thinking he really, really liked the original.
No trip to San Francisco would be complete without a stroll through Chinatown and especially the back alleys. Not too far down one alley, easily findable by the line of gawkers waiting to get in, is the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie company, where they still make their fortune cookies by hand. These are far from the pasty, stale fortune cookies that have been sitting on the shelf in a cardboard box for a year at your favorite chinese restaurant – they are light, crispy, semi-sweet and a nice pastry perfect for enjoying with a cup of hot tea.
Gary Danko’s is probably best described as one of the establishment type places that has seemingly been around forever, but which never gets old. They specialize in a course menu of three to five portions that is either prix fixe (selected by the chef) or do-it-yourself (choose your three to five courses from the regular menu items). There is also a wine pairing served by the sommelier available which I highly recommend, especially if you’ve never done a wine pairing before. I can’t think of a better place to have your flawlessly prepared food accompanied by impeccably chosen wines with the entire presentation being described and presented with flair and tenderness than at one of the top restaurants within an hour’s drive from one of the best wine regions in the world.
Oh, and the lobster pictured here was pretty good, too.
I’m giving Gary D’s a second picture here because, well, look at it! Amidst a dinner that was sophisticated in both flavor and plating, it was wonderful to receive this whimsical and beautifully done contemporary take on Macaroons as one of our dessert offerings – looking like some ice dream filled surprise from a Dr. Seuss show.
Another one of those stops that must be scheduled is the Saturday morning farmer’s market at the Ferry Building. Since we’re always traveling when we’re here we can only drool at the offerings of fresh veggies, fruits, cheeses and other items that would spoil if we tried to take them home.
However, the multitude of briny fresh and cooked oysters and seafood at Hog Island Oyster Company require no refrigeration, since they never last more than a minute on the serving platter.
Okay. I bought a selfie stick in Chinatown. Yes, he was asking $25. I walked when he stuck at $22. I went back in and bought it when he shouted $20. And the whole time I knew it was worth $8. What can I say?
Anyway, our afternoon brewery hopping endeavor seemed like the perfect time to try it out, and, if I do say so, beer goggles aside, this one of my Doll and I came out pretty good at the best seats in the house in front of Rogue Brewery. They had this Black Lager there, too… Wow!
When you walk into a restaurant that has a live tank full of spot prawns, order them. These spicy, garlic butter prawns tasted like they were selected just for us, and they were…
So, not counting a light breakfast in the airport the following morning, we chose as our last meal in the city another spot that everyone should try at least once. Aside from the fabulous Spot Prawns we had,. R & G lounge in the heart of Chinatown is renowned for their Salt and Pepper deep fried Dungeness crab, which we get on almost every trip to the city. But, since we had help, we also ordered this spicy Garlic Ginger deep fried crab. Holy of all Moly’s, I didn’t think it could get any better, but we now have a new menu item to enjoy.
You know that feeling at the end of a great meal when you settle back to enjoy a nice cappucino or aperitif and you’re basically satisfied with everything – the meal, the company, life in general…? Such it was and is at the end of this trip. Everyone, everywhere needs to eat. For those of us who get to do so in one of the greatest food regions anywhere, we might as well enjoy every bite. Cheers, my friends!