As I write this post I’ve got Tony Bennett crooning in the background, reminding me of all of the things I loved about San Francisco… well. Maybe not the hills. Those are some intense hills – when Ben parked uphill on one particularly steep one I was convinced we were going to roll backwards, then nearly fell over getting out of the car.
I definitely didn’t get enough time in San Francisco proper, but I did get one and a half fabulous days with some amazing people who showed me the sights, the sounds and the tastes – oh, so many tastes – of San Francisco. I even made it over to one of Thomas Keller’s establishments in Yountville, which was a surprise. Who’d have thunk T. Keller’s joints were so nearby? Not me, but I’m pretty geographically challenged and thought Napa was much further than it actually was! Thanks San Fran and the surrounding Bay Area – I’m coming back to have a little more fun with you soon.
The Golden Gate Bridge
This is a terrible photo but it’s the only one I managed to get of the bridge. I only saw it twice, once when I was driving into San Francisco and once when I left, so I snapped this out the back window as we were heading to the airport. I actually got sick pretty much as soon as I arrived in San Francisco (damn this immune system of mine) so I spent much of my time cooped up in bed trying to rest up. Oh well – all the more reason to return for a little more exploring!
Never Work With Animals or Children
This is Jonathan. Jonathan is a 1 1/2 year-old golden retriever puppy. Jonathan is big. Jonathan likes to jump up and try to climb on your lap. Jonathan is a “stud” – yes, that does mean he’s beautiful, but it also means that he’s used as a breeder for seeing-eye dogs. Jonathan is slobbery and will cover you in his version of kisses if he can because Jonathan just wants to love you. That’s okay, I don’t mind a little love from this (big) guy – you probably wouldn’t, either.
This is Toro. Toro belongs to the beautiful, funny and incredibly generous Angi. Toro is insane (first photo; that was Toro attempting to sneak up on his favourite toy, the red-rubbery-stick-thing – he eventually attacked with such vigour he knocked the ottoman over on top of himself). Toro also likes to curl up into small spaces, such as between my side and the sofa, where he happily nestled himself for a good half an hour or so. Ah, Toro…
This is Skipper. Skipper resides with the amazing Ben & Erin. She likes to sit on your thigh and/or high places. She’s also very friendly – one of the first things she did was come over to check me out and have a good sniff of my hand. Of course that could also have been because I smelt like a cross between crazy dog and crazy cat…
This is my little Cinderella. She likes to read Madeleine books and sing Disney songs. Her parents also tried feeding her some chilli, just for kicks. Parenthood is like a giant experiment! She is beautiful and adorable – somebody’s going to be a heartbreaker when she’s older!
And this little one was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. She had these huge eyes and a total fascination for life: almost makes my biological clock want to start ticking… almost.
Bouchon Bistro & Bakery
For some reason I didn’t realise that Napa is so close to the Bay Area. I was actually staying in a lovely area of town, 40 miles north of San Francisco, which meant that Yountville, where Keller has his three main restaurants and bakery (Bouchon, The French Laundry and Ad Hoc) was only 40 mins away from there.
The bread was, of course, beautiful. Crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, it came straight from the bakery next door, piping hot and served up with creamy, luscious butter that melted onto the bread and slid down your throat with a rare silkiness.
I had the moules et frites (I do love a good bowl of moules), which were steamed in white wine with bacon (mhm, bacon), and one of my dining companions had the tartine of the day – an open faced tuna and egg salad. The frites were ginormous – I’m not sure how one person can finish the whole thing! I barely made a dent in mine!
All in all a decent meal, if a little more on the pricey side… but to be expected. This is, after all, a Keller establishment. But I particularly enjoyed the French bistro feel, it really did feel like a little cafe en Paris. Were I to return I’d probably order something else (the French Onion Soup and Croque Madame looked divine) – there are, after all, a couple of other locations, including in Las Vegas. If you’re interested in a more comprehensive review you should check out the wonderful Jen of Tiny Urban Kitchen‘s exciting review of Bouchon Bistro, Vegas.
I’ll be going here next time I’m in that area of the world…
6534 Washington Street
Momma Lee’s good friend whom I was staying with grew up in Cuba. She’s not only fascinating and beautiful, fluent in Spanish and half-Japanese, but also a wonderful cook. We spent hours talking about food, exciting one another with recipe discoveries and food tricks, her telling me stories about her childhood and how she came to love oysters (two words: oyster shooters!), fascinating me so much that she insisted we go along to Sol Food, a Puerto Rican restaurant, for dinner one evening.
I must admit, my knowledge of Caribbean and South American food is much limited. I don’t ever remember having eaten Puerto Rican, or Cuban food for that matter, before and didn’t know what to expect other than rice and beans (also a Mexican staple). I didn’t even realise that this cuisine would include plantain, a food I associated primarily with Jamaica and Ghana. You learn something new every day! Sol Food originally started as a food cart, then a small take-away establishment, and had now grown into a large sit-down restaurant where the queue often snaked out of the door and around the block. They were also apparently about to open a new venue slightly further downtown, thanks to popular demand. When we arrived a small queue was already beginning to form, despite the torrential rain.
I ordered a limonada – a fresh lime juice with soda water and syrup – to drink, which was incredibly refreshing and served my favourite way in America: in a huge jar with a straw. I don’t know why I love being served drinks in jars – probably because it’s so incredibly practical and yet fascinating. Waste not, want not!
I ordered the Pollo al Horno (boneless, skinless chicken thighs, marinated with oregano and garlic then baked; served with rice, black beans, organic salad, tostones (fried unripened plantain) and maduros (fried ripened plantain)) and Momma Lee’s friend had the Bistec Encebollado (thinly-sliced steak sauteed with onions; served with rice, black beans, organic salad and maduros). The chicken was tender and juicy and the maduro was delicious. It had a delicate sweetness to it which I really enjoyed as a good contrast to the rest of the meal. The tostone wasn’t amazing, but I think this was down to the cooking method rather than anything else. Momma Lee’s friend informed me quietly that she makes much better tostones and maduros; I guess I’ll have to go back to try them!
For dessert we shared a Flan de Queso (classic vanilla flan) and Templeque con Mango (a creamy coconut based dessert with mango sauce). Whilst the flan was decent, the templeque was delicious – creamy, sweet and nutty; it practically melted in your mouth.
For my first experience of Puerto Rican food Sol Food was definitely a good choice. Best of all it felt like a home-cooked meal – you saw the chefs working in the kitchen, the staff were courteous and friendly, and the portions large. The perfect meal for a cold, wet night!
732 4th Street
San Rafael CA
Perhaps my favourite part about visiting San Francisco was finally getting to meet many of the food bloggers I’ve been communicating with on a regular basis. This particularly zany group included Angi, The Baking Barrister, Azmina, Jun and Jean, all of whom were not only incredibly welcoming, but also riotously funny. I was often gasping for air after some particularly quick-witted response or wise-crack from one of this fabulous group, it honestly was such a pleasure to meet them. And, of course, we ate, oh boy did we eat…
It’s not really a visit to San Francisco without a visit to Tartine Bakery & Cafe. Made famous for its flaky pastries and freshly-baked goods, the line was already starting to head down the block when we arrived for a late breakfast/early lunch. Considering that this was all done when the heavens had decided to open up and pour down upon us, it was really saying something that punters were queuing for so long.
We started backwards with sweet things: a pain au chocolat with pastry so flaky half of it ended up in my lap before it went in my mouth; and their famous seasonal bread pudding, this time made with apples. Both were delicious but we wanted more! More I tell you, more!
Next up, a cheesy peppery gougere, buttery and sublime. That disappeared fairly quickly into our waiting mouths.
A selection of toasted sandwiches was next, including proscuitto & provolone, goat’s cheese on walnut bread, and spicy turkey with a selection of greens, all served alongside fresh apple slices or pickled spiced baby carrots.
We washed down our fare with coffee and water, plenty of giggles and gossiping, then heaved ourselves up from our chairs, shrugged on our raincoats and headed down the street for some more food.
Tartine Bakery & Cafe
600 Guerrero Street
San Francisco CA
Ice-cream on a cold day? Am I insane?! Well no, actually, and here comes the science lesson! Eating cold things when you’re cold actually warms you up, just as drinking hot things on a hot day cools you down. I could go into a big scientific reason as to why this works, but I’d probably be talking out of my behind and then somebody much more intelligent would chime in with, “actuaaaally, the reason is becaaaause…” and I’d look silly. So just trust me on this one. Cold on a cold day, hot on a hot day. Try it – it works.
Bi-Rite Creamery will give you samples of their ice-cream before you decide which one you’re going to eat, and I had many samples. I tried the Earl Grey (so delicious), the Roasted Banana (which I eventually went with), the Ricanelas (cinnamon ice-cream with snickerdoodle pieces – this was awesome, I almost regret not getting some) and the Salted Caramel. I would’ve tried more but by this point felt kind of guilty, especially because they give you a full-on metal spoon to try the ice-creams – that’s a lot of washing up to do! My choice was exactly what I needed, the perfect pick me up. And so time to move on!
3692 18th Street
San Francisco CA
Samovar Tea Lounge
Sorry about the blurry photo – broken 18-55mm does not like to take photos of pretty people!
When Angi suggested that it was perhaps time for tea (and tea for time? Anybody get that reference?), the Brit within me screamed, “YES, YES, OH GOD, YES” but outloud I only remarked, “oh yes, that would be jolly nice”. She led us through the windy (uphill) streets of San Francisco and to the Samovar Tea Lounge where I was promised a hot cuppa of the good stuff.
Being the weirdo I am, I asked, nay, insisted, that we each order the strangest item on the menu, and so came our teas!
Angi ordered the Monkey Picked Iron Goddess of Mercy, an oolong tea. It was light and herbal-y, beautifully presented and fun to pour.
Jun’s was the Maiden’s Ecstasy, and this beautiful guest photo was taken by him. He became my resident food stylist as he cleared cutlery, napkins and various clutter out of the way for me. “I just don’t like clutter in the background…” he explained, brushing crumbs from the table and re-arranging the tea. Clearly Jun knows what he’s doing, as proven with this strong and sharp pu-erh tea photo!
The Baking Barrister had the Schizandra Berry tea, a chilled tea. It was very sweet and fruity, but look at that colour! Gorgeous.
Jean’s was the Fukamushi Sencha, a green tea. I’m already a big fan of green teas, but this was perfection to my palate, without the bitter quality that green tea sometimes has.
They also served food, but thanks to our giant meal earlier none of us were feeling particularly peckish. Instead we enjoyed our warming teas, gossiped and giggled some more, before finally heading back out into the (never-ending) rain. Highly recommended.
Samovar Tea Lounge
730 Howard St
San Francisco CA
Dinner finally rolled around and myself, The Baking Barrister, Angi and her hubs Nathan were joined for dinner by the fabulous Ben & Erin and Danielle & Matthieu for The Leg of the Beast at Incanto. It was an incredibly fun evening, full of laughter, stories and, of course, plenty of pork.
A beautiful meal from start-to-finish, consisting of assorted charcuterie meats; bread, roasted garlic and olive tapenade; salad; bone marrow spread on toast with freshly grated horseradish; a whole beef shank; beef tendon and cannellini beans; roasted broccoli with lemons and anchovies; and two desserts – probably the most decadent thing I have ever had the pleasure to partake in. The food (and wine! I had three full glasses in front of me at one point) didn’t stop coming and I don’t think we stopped eating until every morsel had disappeared from our plate. By the end of it, however, we were not only full, we were about to fall into food comas – every person at the table was struggling to keep their eyelids open.
There were many highlights to this meal, but perhaps the only low points were the desserts, which were saffron panna cotta, served with clementine and blood orange segments, and chocolate polenta cake, served with whipped cream and cacao nibs (“cacao! Cacao to cacao!”). This, however, was presented in what appeared to be a cupcake form, which somebody was somewhat less than pleased with…
After this heavy full-on meal, can you believe that our server tried to suggest we order a pasta dish alongside?! I’d recommend it, but make sure you go in a big group – you just won’t be able to handle it, otherwise.
1550 Church Street
San Francisco CA
So there we have it! San Francisco and the Bay Area in a nutshell! I’ll definitely be back – there was so much to see and far too little time to do it! Thanks again to all of the wonderful Bay Area Bloggers – you guys extended hospitality, kindness, fun and laughter to me by the bucketful. I’m just sorry we had so little time to hang out… and in the rain, too! You guys make my travels, not just the food, and I’m ridiculously grateful to you all.
In the meantime, if you’ve got any recommendations for places I missed out on let me know – I’ll be sure to put them on the itinerary for a future visit! Until next time, peace and love.