Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Culinary Road Trip: San Francisco

This past week my wife and I took a long weekend vacation to San Francisco and the Napa Valley. I came away from the trip thinking that this area might be the best place to eat and drink in the entire country!

Fresh from getting off the plane, we jumped on the BART system and made our way to the 16th and Mission stop around noon in anticipation of a 1pm tour of Anchor Steam Brewing Company, located about a mile away according to Google Maps. Since when we got of the train we found ourselves in a very Hispanic neighborhood, we thought Mexican food would make the most sense and we took off in search of an authentic taqueria.

Dos Pinas
251 Rhode Island St. #102
San Francisco, CA 04103
(415) 252-8220

We found a local place, Dos Pinas that was busting at the seems with customers at noon, across the street from a culinary academy. We gave it a shot and we're glad we did. Dos Pinas is a small, maybe 30 seat place with order and pickup windows. My wife had the California Tacos, with chicken breast, lettuce, pico de gallo, fresh guac, sour cream, red rice, and beans which were very good and according to her "better than Big Star!" I had the carnitas "Street Tacos" which were little corn tortillas, cebollas y cilantro, and salsa verde these were also very tasty. I'd recommend giving them a try if you're in the area or are killing time before a brewery tour.

Anchor Steam Brewery
1705 Mariposa Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 863-8350

We then made the short walk over to the Anchor Steam brewery:

I had to call 6 weeks in advance in order to get a reservation to a brewery tour. Tours are limited to about 20 people, once or sometimes twice a day, only on the weekdays. You meet in their own private pub, lined with cool beer memorabilia, Anchor Steam or otherwise (they had a large Old Style and Schlitz collection, seriously). Our tour guide did a great job, telling the story of a 100+ year old brewery that was ready to close in the 1960s when a local wealthy Stanford graduate who loved the beer and didn't want it to go away named Fritz Maytag bought the company and ran it until last year when he sold it to an investment group. He ran it as a labor of love and it shows to this day. After a half hour tour through the facility, which produces 90,000 barrels of beer a year, our guide let everyone taste the Company's 6 draft beers for the next hour plus. The tour is free, but reservations are tough!

You can read more about the Company here:

Here is a picture of their very neat copper brewing kettles: 

And a picture of their neat tap room filled with leather chairs, a wood bar, big windows, and a bunch of cool beer memorabilia:

Flour + Water
2401 Harrison Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 826-7000

Our first night in San Francisco we went to dinner at Flour + Water. I first saw Flour + Water in GQ, who named it the 2nd best new restaurant in the country in a recent issue. The menu here is Italian and focuses on seasonal ingredients, including featuring an in-house butcher. Small and with a neighborhood feel, F+W is a fun and relaxing place to eat.

According to the restaurant, they have a pizza oven capable of getting up to 800* and are known for their pies. So we ordered one as an appetizer which was recommended. The pizza was light, almost pesto-style, and very tasty. For my main course I had a wonderful veal liver ravioli that was incredibly fresh and cooked perfectly. My wife had a beef tongue bolenesi that was good as well. A national top-10 restaurant experience? Not sure about that, but it was very solid none the less!

 Humphry Slocombe
2790 Harrison Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 550-6971

After dinner we made the very short walk down to Humphry Slocombe for a scoop or two of artisan ice cream. They feature some wild and very unique flavors here, including Foie Gras and Government Cheese. I ended up with the Secret Breakfast which was a vanilla ice cream with bourbon and corn flakes which sounds odd but was really fun and tasty! We later found there ice cream featured at a local restaurant as a dessert side.
Swan Oyster Depot
1517 Polk Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 673-2757

After a tour of Alcatraz Island, we walked over to the very popular 99 year-old Swan Oyster Depot for lunch. Very popular, we waited for about an hour for the tiny establishment to turn over. Inside, the restaurant is filled with seafood and is more like a fish market that decided to plug in a few stools and serve easy seafood dishes on a long marble bar. The menu is limited to New England Clam Chowder, fresh crab, shrimp, prawns, oyster, clams, and a few smoked fish. My wife and both had a cup of the clam chowder and expected heaven...but it was an oversalted and over clam sauced broth. That wasn't too great, but we did get a "combination" salad with huge chunks of crab, prawns, and shrimp over a simple bed of lettuce and a little dressing that was just awesome and worth standing in line for!

Here's the exterior:

Great Eastern Restaurant
649 Jackson Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 986-2500

For dinner that night was at Great Eastern in Chinatown. My wife had been with family before and recommended it. This was kind of our token Chinese stop of the tour and to be honest was the weakest meal we had. We ordered pot stickers (great), chow mien (eh), egg rolls (eh), Mongolian beef (great), and a chicken rice (fine). The restaurant has some fish aquariums in the back which I think is supposed to show the freshness of the fish...but I thought it looked gross and like the seafood was barely alive if at all.

Mama's on Washington Square
1701 Stockton St.
San Francisco, CA

For brunch on Sunday, we headed to the San Francisco breakfast institution known as Mama's on Washington Square. We walked up to the restaurant right after it opened at 8am, to find it full and a line of 30 people outside. After a little more of an hour waiting, we were inside and waiting in line next to the cooks and the awesome selection of baked goods and ingredients:

My wife had the pancakes, which sounds boring, but the waitress said that they are the best with a house jam that they keep on the tables. The jam, a mix of fresh berries, was fantastic and made the cakes taste great. I ordered one of their house specials: dungeness crab Benedict with fresh spinach. This was pure seafood at breakfast heaven. To top it off I ordered a side of sausage links, which were clearly not bought at the store and were hand made and fantastic quality. The line here is a pain (we did get to watch a Chinatown new year's10k run by though), but in the end it was clearly worth it. Here was the line as we were leaving:

3870 17th Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

After working up an apatite riding bikes across the Golden Gate bridge and over to Sausolito, we walked down from the hotel to visit  Melissa Perello's Frances in the Castro neighborhood. Frances was awarded a Michelin star in its first year of operation and came highly recommended. The space is very small, with room for maybe 16 tables and a small bar and an even smaller kitchen. Because of the lack of space, reservations are impossible and go months in advance. While I tried to call 6 weeks in advance, they were all booked but mentioned that the bar is always open for walk-ins. We decided for an early dinner on our last night in town and made our way over before 5pm. By the time the doors opened there was a significant line and people were figuring out the proper order of who came first!

The menu changes daily based on local ingredients and is pretty limited. It's broken out into bouchees, appetizers, entrees, and sides. With 4 options within each category. Here was the menu the night we went:

First, we had the Applewood Smoked Bacon Beinets, served with a little creme fraiche. These are much talked about from previous reviewers on Yelp and Food Blogs, and they were not wrong...they were incredible. Light, fluffy, and fried...these were really good. Then we had the Panisse Frites, which consisted of 4 sticks of fried chickpeas and served with a spicy aioli. These were also a great starter, and reminded us both of a dish we had at Girl and the Goat here in Chicago this past summer.

 While my wife had the lettuce salad, which she loved, for an appetizer, while I had the white bean soup. The soup was fantastic, subtle, but a ton of flavor. For the main course I had the wonderful risotto and my wife had the steak. Both were very strong main dishes that, coupled with the previous dishes, made for a fantastically well rounded meal. And for dessert, we had their signature lumberjack cake with a scoop of Humphrey Slocum maple walnut ice cream.

Another neat thing about Frances is that they offer two house wines, for $1 an ounce. They came in a quasi-beaker with markings every 2 ounces down, filled to the top, and you only way for what you don't drink. Fantastic. In addition to wine, they also served beer in bottles and had one local breweries beer (Magnolia) on draft.


I think San Francisco might be the best city in the country to eat and drink. The combination of a long growing season, proximity to farms (quality beef, poultry, and pork), west coast breweries, and nearby Napa Valley's wine. I don't think it's a coincidence that there are so many world class chefs practicing in the area!

1 comment:

  1. Anchor Steam is pretty good, depending on the style. I've actually been to that brewery. In response to your $22 question, yes, it technically was only $22 on the menu, but have one $6 beer, tax and tip, and all of a sudden you've spent $35 or more. Anyway, have you thought of putting your chicago reviews on Urbanspoon?


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