Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Great Eats in the City by the Bay

by Xani

Finally a work trip took me somewhere decent! No offense Rutland VT, Albany, NY, or Lake Charles, LA, but, as far as dining and entertainment, San Francisco has you beat! I was lucky enough to spend four nights in downtown SF, and eat four yummy dinners, a fantastic lunch, and a breakfast (just before heading to the airport) that made me wish I never had to leave!

Night One, Sunday: After two long flights and an extended layover in Phoenix, we checked into the hotel and headed out to In N Out burger in Fisherman's Wharf. EP already gave a great rundown of In N Out and I'll just confirm everything she said! I also ordered the animal-style burger, well-done fries, and a Neapolitan shake (which was awesome!). It was a real treat to have In N Out as my first meal in SF-- I had not had it in over a year, since my last visit to the Fisherman's Wharf location!

Night Two, Monday: This was something I was very much looking forward to: The Slanted Door.

This place had been recommended to me by several friends and SF locals, and I tried, unsuccessfully, to go last summer when I was in the area. This time, I planned ahead. I made reservations almost a month in advance (and STILL I could only get an 8pm reservation on a Monday-- this place is in demand!). The Slanted Door is located in the Ferry Market Building, which was just a few blocks from our hotel and is a mecca for food-lovers. Full of adorable little gourmet/specialty shops (cheese, olive oil, bread, etc), and a few restaurants, it also hosts a farmers' market once a week (sadly this was during working hours, so we couldn't visit then). Walking by all those little shops really worked up an appetite (not to mention it was 8pm, or 11pm for those of us still on east coast time!), so we headed inside, ordered cocktails and/or tea, and lounged in the... um, lounge, for a few minutes while we waited for our table to be ready. I ordered "Summer on the Danube" described as: Prosecco with a splash of Nikolaihof biodynamic elderflower syrup. Now doesn't THAT sound fancy?! I'm a sucker for sparkling wine, and apparently for biodynamic elderflower syrup-- this was one good cocktail!

We were soon seated and after a quick discussion, we were ready to order. We got the following:

  • crispy imperial rolls with shrimp, pork, glass noodles and peanuts
  • daikon rice cakes with shiitake mushrooms and shallots
  • baby Mediterranean octopus with shishito peppers and lime-cilantro sauce
  • sweet corn and dungeness crab soup
  • Meyer Ranch shaking beef cubed filet mignon with garlic, watercress and red onions
  • Japanese eggplant (spicy) with green onions and coconut milk

The food started coming out right away (this was good news-- remember we were hungry!) beginning with the rolls, the rice cakes, and the octopus.

Crispy Imperial Rolls

Daikon Rice Cakes

Octopus Babies

All of these dishes were AWESOME. I was thrilled. I had forced my co-workers (yet again!) to come to some random restaurant that might or might not be any good, and this time, it paid off. First off, the rolls-- these were basically small sections of fully cooked spring roll, but they were served with a sweet/sour dipping sauce, rice noodles, basil leaves, and lettuce leaves. The waiter told us to dip each spring roll section in sauce, stick it in a lettuce leaf, add noodles and basil, wrap, and devour. And that is just what we did-- the whole table loved this dish and we thought it was a genius combination of two great tastes: spring rolls AND lettuce wraps.

The daikon rice cakes were also great, and the big surprise of the evening. I mean, who expects much when they order rice cakes? But these were not the dry, flavorless disks you get in the grocery store. They were more like compressed blocks of sticky rice (and, I guess, daikon) served with this really awesome sauce. This might have been my favorite dish of the night... and it was just RICE. Wonders never cease.

Another great dish: the Mediterranean baby octopus. Very smoky and spicy-- the octopus was perfectly cooked and not chewy at all. The peppers and the sauce were also really tasty. First course was a big success.

Next came the soup, the beef stir-fry, and the eggplant. These were all SO good that I totally forgot to take pictures of them! In all honesty, the rest of the dishes were great. The soup had lots of fresh corn and pieces of crab, but was still not as good as the corn and crab chowder at The Bicycle, in Federal Hill. The beef was very tasty, and I thought it was interesting that they used filet mignon instead of the cheap, stringy beef that's usually in stir-fry. Great texture and taste in this dish. Finally, the eggplant, which was spicy and served in a creamy coconut milk sauce. Life would not be worth living without coconut milk-- I'm just putting that out there.

The big finale was definitely the desserts, which we were all looking forward to. We got the Dark chocolate Marquise, Nectarine Buttertart, trio of sorbets, and a summer berry pavlova.

Dark chocolate Marquise: tall= delicious!

Nectarine Butter Tart

Pavlova with summer berries and chocolate ginger ice cream

Wow! The perfect end to a delicious meal! But of course, we had more eating to do in the days to come...

We hit a couple places that, unfortunately, I didn't photograph. Sometimes I'm just too lazy/hungry/unwilling to get stabbed by the eager forks of my dining companions. But I still wanted to share my impressions of these places with you, dear Reader.

The next night, after working up an appetite on the Haunted Haight Walking Tour (which was totally fun, educational, and spooky!) we sat down to a lovely dinner at Kan Zaman, a really cool Middle Eastern Restaurant and Hookah Bar right in the Haight District. We lounged on pillows, ate our fill of hummus, dolmades, kibbeh, kabobs, and some of the best baba ganoush we had ever had! The cozy atmosphere, filling food, and sweet smell of the hookahs even led one of our dining companions to doze briefly at the table-- now that is a a sign of a satisfied customer!

After another day of work and a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge to visit Muir Woods and see the giant Redwood trees ("Wow those are some big trees!" "How many toothpicks do you think you could get out of one of those?"), we met up with some local friends to have our last dinner in SF at Absinthe, which is a French Bistro-style place. I had a couple of people recommend this place to me, and after browsing their menu, it seemed like a great place to check out. I was not disappointed!

We met the rest of our party who had been seated at a corner table in the bar. After a few interesting cocktails, we ordered several plates to share: Spicy fried chickpeas; Heirloom tomatoes with roasted gypsy peppers, charred onion vinaigrette, burrata cheese, arugula, and balsamic syrup; Grilled eggplant pizza, Bellwether Farms crescenza, torpedo onions, and arugula; an Antipasti plate, with cured meats by Fra'Mani, Zoe's & La Quercia, pickled vegetables, olives, roasted peppers, and crostini; and French fries, served with Dijon, thyme infused-malt vinegar, and rouille. Everything was really delicious-- my favorites were the fried chickpeas (who knew a chickpea could be so good!?) and the heirloom tomato salad. Dessert was a mix of cheeses and sweet treats-- some people got cheeses (I got the Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill with strawberries, described as "double crème cow's milk cheese with a tangy creaminess." The sweet desserts at the table included “Peanut butter & jelly”: peanut butter parfait, concord grape sorbet and Indonesian long pepper scented crème caramel, Breton cookies. I tasted both and they were delicious! The grape sorbet was out of this world, and the crème caramel was really delicious with the pepper giving it such an unusual and unexpected taste! We left the restaurant, full of good food, but sad to know that we would soon be leaving this great town...

Wow, this post got real long, real fast. I will wrap it up here but look forward to another post about our last great meal in San Francisco!



  1. ooo, sounds lovely! I remember eating pancakes the last time I went to SF... when I was 6. Still, they were good from what I recall.

  2. I love seafood, that octupus baby dish looks delish...I want some!

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