One more San Fran post…This is the real stuff, into the city for some serious adult eating (No offense Aaron.) This post is part lucky stumbled upon, but found out it was on “my list” deliciousness, part deliberate top of “my list” we must eat here hip, chef hangout tastiness, and part oh, how did that slip past my radar and not get on “my list” amazingness.
On Sunday, after an afternoon of family brunch where we made ricotta blackberry crepes and endive, crème fraiche, frizzled prosciutto hors d’ oeuvres, we headed into the city to shop/eat/explore. We drove straight to the Marina District, where we had success on our last trip in the shopping/eating category. I never thought I would say “I love this neighborhood”, but I do. It is so civilized. Told you, I’m getting old! It is clean. There are great boutiques, lots of food choices and we can find parking. How can a neighborhood be “boring” if the amazingly tasty top of “my list”A16 is in it? As good as A16 was, you know me; I want to try something new and exciting, or at least different.
We actually weren’t even planning to eat, we were just in search of a cool place to imbibe, but stumbled across Tacolicious. The place was rockin’, so of course we wanted to go in. We had a drinks at the location when it was Laiola and were wondering what was up. When we looked at the sign, I knew the name sounded familiar and fun. I pulled out my handy dandy list and there it was but listed as a stand at the Thursday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. They had closed Laiola in 2009 to grow their farmers market taco stand. YES! I could cross coca cola braised beef tacos off my list.
Problem was…we weren’t really hungry. Oh well, minor problem. Just one little taco wouldn’t hurt. Oh, but, you could choose four tacos for $12.00. Ok, twist our arms. Here was the line up….Fried local cod with cabbage and tangy crema, house made chorizo potato, guajillo braised beef short ribs, and shot and a beer braised Petaluma chicken. Plus the tacos came with a salsa sampler. Laurent was in heaven and boy were they pretty colors. The green was a creamy tomatillo and jalapeño; the creaminess had to come from a touch of avocado blended in. That’s my guess. The beautiful yellow was habanero and was not going to get near my tongue. The smoky red was smoky in flavor, too, from, you guessed it, chipotles. Mmmm. I love smokiness.
Ok, tacos. Fried cod – yes, yum, thank you. Chorizo potato – good. Chicken – surprisingly above the house made chorizo in our very scientific ranking system. Short ribs – chewy, tender, sticky, smoky, slightly spicy, wish I could eat three more of these tacolicious deliciousnesses.
After Tacolicious, it was onto Tornado, the Haight dive beer bar for a beer, as Tacolicious’ beer list left a lot to be desired. Plus we had to digest before heading to……drum roll please….Nopa. I knew I only had one day and one restaurant to choose from on “my list”, my entire excel spread sheet of choices culled from Food and Wine, blogs, and foodie friends. Talk about a hard decision, especially for someone who is notoriously bad at making decisions (I just want it ALL!) Actually, I lied, it was an easy decision. Hands down, Nopa won, recommended by Alex Lopez, the Food Diva and Food and Wine magazine and touted as a chef hangout. If the chef’s are eating there, then I am eating there. Nopa stands for North of the Panhandle, where the restaurant is located. Sounds hip. That’s what counts, right? Nopa was delicious. That simple. You knew the moment you stepped inside that it was going to be good. Actually, I knew a few blocks away that it was going to be good, as we smelled the wood burning oven belching out its sweet smoky, meaty smells. Mmmmmmmm.
There were two seats at the bar, lucky for us, as we walked in with no resos and not a chance in hell at getting a table. We prefer to sit at the bar anyways, less commitment, if it’s not good, which was not going to be a problem at Nopa. Plus, if you order a full meal at the bar, that makes the bartender happy as his check, and tip, just went way up. If you order just appetizers at a table, pricey real estate at busy restaurants, you make for an angry waiter, which equals bad service. It is hard enough getting good service these days. I much rather have a happy bartender wait on me.
This happy bartender was a pleasure. He was well versed and knew what he was talking about and took the time to explain white whiskeys to us, which caught our eye on the drink menu, and the drinks that were made with them. He suggested a white Manhattan for Laurent so we could compare it to the white buck that I ordered, which, by the way, is a cocktail made with ginger beer and lemon. White whiskeys are whiskeys made with no barrel ageing, hence they are white, as they do not pick up any color from the barrel they are aged in. I am just getting into whiskies, and love tasting them and learning about them. I don’t think I like white whiskeys, though, as I love the taste that the barrel imparts on the booze. It tasted a little too much like tequila to me. (Tequila and I go way back and do not really agree with each other, if you know what I mean.) It was a fun experiment, though; he white whiskey, NOT the tequila.
We weren’t starving. Not a good position to be in here. We managed to eat an entrée, a side and a dessert, though, “for the sake of research”. You know how at some restaurants you can find a million appetizers you want to try and no entrees. Well, it was the opposite at Nopa. While the appetizers looked great, Laurent and I both eyed at least three entrees we wanted to try. Time to call in the bartender for advice. I always go with waiter recommendations, as they have the inside scoop. I was in the biz for years, trust me, I know. We were leaning towards the milk braised goat with English peas, spring onions and tarragon, just because, well, when else do we eat goat? The bartender, though, said that the grilled country pork chop was the best pork chop we would ever have. Plus I was much more interested in the fried baby favas and kumquats on the side, than the English peas. The pork chop won. The bartender was right, it was the best pork chop we have ever had, cooked perfectly to medium rare, as promised. Yes medium rare. We are out of the dark ages of trichinosis and these pigs had lived a happy life on a local farm and were not going to make us sick if not cooked to a leathery death, like our moms used to do. Oops, sorry, I mean my mom! This was the second time we had fried baby favas on this trip. I could move to Cali just to be able to eat those in early May every year. The thin slices of kumquats were the perfect foil to the lightly fried favas and the juicy smoky, slightly fatty, in a good way, pork.
The polenta side dish we ordered was so much more than merely a “side”. Cubes of polenta, I expected it to be a creamy soft polenta for some reason, but who am I to argue with this deliciousness, I would not have changed a thing. So, cubes of polenta, with a creamy, sauce of blue cheese and honey and chunks of walnuts in a crock, raised to the roof of the wood burning oven to crisp and caramelize. I think I danced when I ate it. No, I KNOW, I danced when I ate it. I think know we sopped up every last bit of that salty/sweet sauce with a piece of crusty bread. Don’t worry, little polenta side, you are a main course in my eyes.
How we had room for dessert, I don’t know. Oh, I remember, we didn’t. Did that stop us from ordering it? No. Let me tell you, the portions here are a nice size, and dessert was no different. Dessert had my friend Stacy’s name all over it. Lavender pot de crème with dark chocolate pudding cake and cocoa nib caramel. You know that I can’t pass up anything with the word caramel in it. This was literally two desserts. Told you they weren’t shy with their portions. The lavender pot de crème had chocolate on top of it…bonus….and was silky, creamy and smooth and did not taste like soap at all! Some lavender desserts do, you know. The dark chocolate pudding cake was delicious as well, and I managed to get every last bit of that cocoa nib caramel off the plate without actually licking it. I am very talented that way. Very happy. Full belly. Good night.
Good morning. Time for one last San Fran meal, on the way to the airport. Scott suggested Out the Door, the infamous Slanted Door’s casual restaurant. This was a great idea, as we have never been to The Slanted Door, and we could now try the food without breaking the bank. Well…sort of. $50 for lunch was a bit of a stretch to be called “cheap”, in my book, but let me tell you, I would rather pay $9 for a bowl of soup and have it be a damn good smaller bowl of soup. You know, now that I think about it, $50 wasn’t crazy for lunch. $9 for soup, $12 for entrée, $5 for side, that is totally reasonable. It was the fancy beer Laurent ordered just for the cool bottle, $10, and the $4.50 fancy blooming jasmine tea that sent us over the “cheap” mark. It was all worth it, though, including the fancy beer bottle and blooming tea. It made for great pics, as you will see. (Hey, that rhymes ) Plus I was one happy camper after eating at OTD (as us insiders call in. JK. That is what is actually on their business card.) And that is how Laurent likes me!
First the room is light and airy and modern and casual and comfortable. We sat at the bar, as usual, but had no trouble committing to a great lunch. We were pretty “fooded out” by this point and welcomed the clean, light Vietnamese flavors on the menu. I ordered chicken pho and Laurent ordered grilled lemongrass pork over vermicelli noodles with a crispy imperial roll. We also ordered a side of snap peas and shitake mushrooms. I love pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup, but have never ordered chicken pho, thinking it was the wimpy way out. And I am no wimp! Hands down, this was the best pho I have ever had and the best chicken soup I have ever had. It tasted like quality. It tasted of good, clean ingredients, excellent technique and of pure chicken. Now we make our own damn good chicken stock at home and think it is essential to a good soup. We do cheat and use the crock pot and it works. But this is the real deal. You could tell this stock was made by a trained professional. It was clean and clear, but none of the flavor had been filtered out. I will make an educated guess and say that the chicken bones were roasted, as they should be, before they made their way into the stock pot. The chicken was juicy, both the white meat and dark meat. Rare occurrence, indeed.
Laurent’s lemongrass pork was excellent. Classic Vietnamese fare, but better. The cha goi, or imperial roll, was light and crispy and not the least bit greasy at all. And the snap peas were plump and crunchy and tasted like Spring, balanced by the earthy shitake mushrooms. I don’t think shitakes should even be called mushrooms. I take that back, button mushrooms, should not be called mushrooms. These are two different animals, or I guess I should say vegetables. The texture of shitakes is not at all slimy, like those insidious button mushrooms. I don’t even like those things fried with ranch dressing on them, which will make almost anything taste good. They just don’t taste like anything. Shitakes are meaty, yet delicate, chewy (I would say “toothsome” but I DESPISE that word and its overuse!) with the most amazing burst of pure flavor umami. I could eat this kind of food all day long.
Since it was raining and we had a little time to spare before saying goodbye to San Fran, I ordered the Thousand Days Red Jasmine Xian Tao art tea. Green tea leaves are wrapped around the clover type flower and formed, dried, reshaped, scented with jasmine and hand tied with a silk thread. If that is not worth $4.50, I don’t know what is! The tea had the most amazing bouquet and was so soothing to sip. We were mesmerized by the flowering of the tea and how it floated and danced and sunk in the glass.
It was a very pleasant way to pass a half hour on a rainy day and a beautiful image to take with us as a memory of our amazing trip. A trip that was full of pleasant surprises, unfolding in ways we hadn’t imagined, delighting us in its simple pleasures and exciting us with new discoveries.