Scouting Out San Fran

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I hope everyone had a great Valentine’s Day! I must admit that I’m not really into celebrating the day.  I prefer exchanging cards with loved ones and staying in for a home cooked meal.  I don’t like battling crowds at a restaurant around this holiday, and I don’t like the highly inflated prix fix menus. Also, my husband, Franz, and I returned from a weekend trip to San Francisco, so I think I had enough dinners out, wine and desserts to last until next weekend!

San Fran is great!  The people, the architecture, the overall vibe is so different from my city of San Diego – I can’t believe they are in the same state.

The trip was a jam-packed eating frenzy.  I had an amazing 3 course lunch ($49) at Michael Mina.  It was delicious!  Franz started with a Bloody Mary that I believe was the best one I’ve ever had – it had a light spritz to it.  Usually a Bloody Mary can be a little heavy before I start a meal, but this one was light and refreshing with just enough of a zing, probably due to the Hanger One Chipotle Vodka.  My appetizer was Mina’s Classic Ahi Tuna Tartare with Habanero-Infused Sesame Oil.  The server prepares the dish in front of you: he takes the quail egg yolk off the top of the Ahi Tuna, breaks it into the condiments on the plate which include Asian Pear and Pine Nuts, and then mixes everything back into the Ahi. It’s served with Toast Points that I found unnecessary.  Franz had a selection of Oysters on the Half Shell.  Both appetizers were awesome, but I preferred mine – I like a little heat in my food!  I joke about carrying around a bottle of sriracha in my purse.  I won’t do that!  At least, I don’t think I will??  For our entrees, we ordered Pan Seared Steelhead Trout served with Celeriac Remoulade, Green Lentils, and Granny Smith Apples and Black Angus NY Strip Steak served with Creamed Spinach, Pommes Pont-Neuf, and Red Romaine.  Both meals were perfectly cooked, and there were just enough flavors on each plate to keep each bite interesting.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed my dessert: Green Apple Sorbet served with Elderflower Pavlova, Almond Crumble, Nepitella Mint (a wild growing mint that has almost a hint of oregano), and Compressed Apples.  It was like eating a Green Apple Jolly Rancher, but without all of the corn syrup and fake dye.  I liked Franz’s dessert more than he did.  He had the Brown Butter Cake with Rum Compressed Bananas, Flan Ice Cream, and Cashews.  It was a deconstructed dessert, so it isn’t what one might expect.  On the plate were chunks of torn cake with the bananas, ice cream, and cashews placed on the plate.  I thought the cake was so soft, almost like brioche, and so flavorful.  I highly recommend Michael Mina!

Michael Mina on Urbanspoon

During the evening, we attended a wonderful tribute dinner for an amazing man, Dr. William G. Hamilton, at Perbacco Ristorante and Bar.  I’m always interested in how a restaurant handles a large group of people and still gets great food out to the guests.  Perbacco did a great job!  My only complaint was that the restroom was in the basement and we were on the second floor.  It was quite a walk to get to the bathroom!  The food was very good and the service was great.  Since I had fish for lunch, I opted for the Seared Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle-Potato Croquettes (I set the Gorganzola Butter aside that was on top of the steak.  I prefer more of the meat flavor, and butters on top can be too overpowering for me.  I know, I’m crazy!).  And since Franz had steak for lunch, he went with the Branzino with Wild Mushrooms and Sunchoke Ragout.  The best part of the meal was the Warm Gianduja Cake with Toasted Meringue.  What’s better than a warm, oozy, chocolate cake??

Perbacco on Urbanspoon

Interestingly, Perbacco and Michael Mina are neighbors.  Also, we were told by friends to check out Tadich Grill, one of the oldest restaurants in San Francisco, during our visit.  It just so happened that it was next to Michael Mina and Perbacco!  We stopped in for a drink before our lunch, but we’ll have to go back again and try their Cioppino and House Made Bloody Mary!  It was like going back in time – servers in white jackets and wood paneled walls.  My kind of place!

The following day, we met my Uncle Tom at The Slanted Door, a “Modern Vietnamese” restaurant, for lunch.  I heard and read so many great things about this restaurant that I built it up a little too much, I believe.  It was a decent restaurant, but I was expecting more.  We ordered a bottle of Juliuspital “Julius Echter Berg” Silvaner (2009) from Franken, Germany that was suggested by our server.  We started with Slanted Door Spring Rolls with Shrimp, Pork, and Mint with a Peanut Sauce and Barbecued Pork Spareribs with a Honey-Hoisin Sauce.  I thought the Spring Rolls were decent but they didn’t pop with flavor.  I’ve had better.  The Spareribs were very meaty & delicious.  Franz ordered Pho Bo, a london broil and brisket noodle soup.  We have a favorite Pho spot in San Diego, and we felt the Pho is better at our usual restaurant.  We followed that with a Caramelized Catfish Claypot that was lacking in heat.  The menu notes, and you could see, the thai chilies used in the dish, but it didn’t lend any flavor to the dish.  It was a very tame dish, and a little on the sweet side.  The last dish we ordered was the Grilled Lemongrass Pork over Rice Vermicelli Noodles with Imperial Roll.  The amount of pork was minimal and the flavors, once again, were on the bland side.  We finished the meal with Vietnamese coffee, coffee with condensed milk.  I had never had this before, and it was fun to try.  I still prefer my coffee and steamed milk, but I was glad we tried it.  I liked the beautiful Bay Bridge view from the restaurant, and I love being in the Ferry Building.  There are so many great vendors in one spot.  We even stopped in one day just to get some amazing olive rolls at The Acme Bread Company (check out the photos on their website: http://www.acmebread.com/the_company).  I’m glad I tried The Slanted Door, but I would like to try other spots when I return to San Francisco.

The Slanted Door on Urbanspoon

Another spot everyone has to check out is Tartine Bakery & Cafe on Guerrero Street.  The husband-wife baking duo/owners are spectacular.  When you arrive, there will be a long line of people waiting to place their orders.  The line goes kind of fast .  And for part of the wait, you get to stare at the case filled with the most beautiful desserts.  I ordered a hot pressed Pecorino and Crushed Almond with Olive Oil, Lemon and Sage Sandwich (sandwiches are available after 11:30am).  It takes about 20 minutes to get a sandwich, so plan your day accordingly.  It’s not a fast food type of place.   I desperately wanted a Banana Cream Tart.  Two women at a table next to me were eating one and were gushing about it and the layer of caramel at the bottom of the tart.  I swear they wanted me to ask them for a bite.  I was close to obliging them, but decided against it.  However, I did order 2 croissants to take back to the hotel so that Franz and I could enjoy them with our Starbuck’s the next morning.  YOU MUST ORDER A CROISSANT.  We felt that it was the best one we’ve ever had in our lives.  It is Heaven.  For the sandwich (it is huge), a Coke in a cute bottle, and 2 croissants (also huge), I spent about $23.  Well worth it!

Tartine Bakery on Urbanspoon

Woodward’s Garden was our last dinner out, and it was well worth the wait!  I highly recommend this restaurant, but make a reservation.  There is a front room that has a few tables and you can see the chefs cooking.  The second room is only a little bit larger, but it has a really nice intimate feeling.  The high ceilings, over sized paintings, and chandelier make the room feel very cozy.  The perfect way to feel while filling my belly!  I started with one of the best appetizers I’ve ever had:  Chicken Liver-Smoked Bacon Pate with Kumquat Compote, Mustard Cream, and Cornichons ($12).  The flavors were so unexpected, but they worked so well!  I will dream about this dish.  Franz had a delicious Pappardelle with Pork Shoulder Pancetta Bolognese ($13).  The flavors of the sauce tasted so fresh, and the pasta was perfect.  Franz ordered Grilled Hanger Steak with a Root Vegetable Gratin, Rabe with Garlic, and a Green Peppercorn Sauce ($26) as his entree.  I decided upon Muscovy Duck Leg Braised with Sour Cherries on Soft White Polenta with Sautéed Brussel Sprouts ($23).  The cherries in this dish took it to the next level.  For dessert, we shared Butterscotch Pudding with Caramel Sauce and Crème Fraiche with a Hazelnut Biscotti ($8.50).  Did I use the word Heaven before?  Well, I’m using it again.  This dessert was Heaven. It was such a perfect restaurant and a perfect meal.  The menu changes every month, but something tells me that each month will be very good.

Woodward's Garden on Urbanspoon

As a side note, I would like to mention a great bar we went to twice during our visit.  We were there for a convention, so there were times when we wanted a place we could grab a seat and hear our friends speak.  Urban Tavern in the Union Square area (next to The Hilton Union Square) was a great place, awesome service, just enough people, but not too packed, and great beers on draft.  Another cool place we happened upon was Per Diem in the Financial District.  I had a delicious Pimm’s Cup (I love drinks with cucumber in them) and shared some tasty French Fries with a great horseradish aioli.

Hopefully I will visit San Francisco soon!  I need to continue making a master list of restaurants for that town!  And there are enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life!!  Let me know if you have a favorite spot!  I’ll check it out next time.  Happy Eatings!

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