Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

TRIP REPORT: San Francisco 2009

It's that time of year again ... the time where we go to San Francisco! We're old so most of our frolicking there involves food or drink, but we always manage to have a great time. This year it was the occasion of the Cal-USC football game which meant the town was pretty much invaded by Southern Californians but only in the touristy parts. I never noticed this when I lived there, but when you're spending most of your time near Union Square it becomes very apparent, especially when you try to get a cab on Saturday night after the football game.

So ... on to the important stuff. Where did we go and what did we do there?

We arrived on Friday afternoon just in time to think about lunch. We stayed in the Hyatt Regency which is conveniently across the the way from the Ferry Building. Since we knew that Saturday would probably be out for the Ferry Building, we opted to just go there right away, for lunch.

We went to Il Cane Rosso for lunch. Il Cane Rosso specializes in simple, farm-fresh, seasonal meals. I had the Star Route Farm Red Oak Lettuce salad with grapes, watermelon radishes, spicy green beans, hazelnuts and sherry vinaigrette. It was a nice light lunch and I was happy that the salad was big enough to be filling but not ridiculously huge like some places make salads. J had a brisket sandwich that was special for that day. The menu is based around several basic items that change according to what's in season. Looking back I can see that my red oak lettuce salad was a Bibb lettuce salad back in August, with figs instead of grapes and almonds instead of hazelnuts, but the idea is basically the same. The food was delicious and we ended up going back again on Sunday for a late lunch. This is the kind of place that I would go to regularly if I lived near it, bcause of the the simple but delicious food and the changing menu.

The next part of the day was devoted to ... well, a nap. We had to get up really early to catch our plane, and I had stayed up really late working the night before so basically if I was going to be alive for the evening portion, I would have to rest, which I did. Then we began our evening.

We started at the Rickhouse, which my former co-workers will remember as Ginger's Trois, one of the more dive-y and frightening gay bars around. The Rickhouse is pretty much unrecognizable. The dark, forbidding entrance with its sad, limp, faded rainbow flag is gone and now there's a sleek wooden facade and bold sign proclaiming that you are now at the Rickhouse. It's rather labyrinthine inside, but it's very nice, managing to feel old and new at the same time. The Rickhouse is a spin-off of Bourbon and Branch and shows the same attentiveness and love of mixology, but with a focus on whiskey. The specialty here is whiskey, although they serve all kinds of drinks. I was feeling like something potent, so I got a Trilby #2: Scotch, sweet vermouth, parfait amour, absinthe and orange bitters. Now that's a drink. We somehow managed to snag a spot at one of the bars but the place was packed and we had things to do, so it was one drink and then out.

We moved on to the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA). GAFFTA is a non-profit art group that deals mainly with social consciousness and digital culture and also as part of an effort towards economic development in the Tenderloin. They were having their public grand opening that night so we decided to check it out. It's a nice space - a small brick building with wheat grass growing from the walls. Most of the pieces were abstract and either in a digital video medium or digitally created. My favorite was a special exhibit by a design group where they mapped out San Francisco based on various things such as crime rate, trees, cab pick-ups/drop-offs, etc. It was interesting to see the city in terms of different things like that and to be able to pick out areas without any other identifiers.

After that, it was time for a late dinner. By this point I had walked from the Financial District to deep in the Tenderloin in my high heels and my feet were telling me in no uncertain terms it was time to sit down. We opted for Bar Jules, a small neighborhood cafe in Hayes Valley. It's the type of place where the menu is written on a blackboard each day based on whatever's good and where no matter how popular it gets, it always feels like a casual neighborhood hangout inside. We were incredibly lucky, because as we got there, we were told that it would be an hour wait. My feet had immediately screamed "WHAT?!" But noting the tables outside with chairs and the availability of wine ordering while you wait, I ignored them and accepted the wait. As it turns out, most of the people ahead of us on the list had left and didn't come back in time to be called so we only had to wait a few minutes. The food is simple, but ours was delicious. The restaurant did a great job of creating the illusion of being in a small neighborhood bistro in France, although most people couldn't afford to pop in here every day for a bite. Still, for a romantic dinner this is a great idea as long as a possibly long wait for a table won't kill the romance for you.

Saturday was the day of the game, so there was not much activity to speak of for most of the day. Jason was off to the game and I spent that time getting some work done. But we did, at least, have breakfast and lunch. For brunch we headed out to the Mission to Bar Tartine. Bar Tartine is not new to me, but I think I haven't written about it here before. Anyway, if you've been reading this up until this point, you won't be surprised to find that Bar Tartine has a French cafe feel while serving fresh, local California cuisine. You are shocked, I know. But what they also have is a really satisfying brunch menu that will fill you up just as well as any greasy spoon. Jason had a poached egg and prosciutto with some grilled country bread and I had a nettle omelet with bitter greens and a rye-herb toast. And it was vacation so mimosas all around! I was happily surprised that we had such an easy time getting a spot for brunch there, although it was busy by the time we left, it didn't seem like it would be a long wait.

One long interlude for sports and working, and then it was dinner time! Our biggest problem turned out to be getting a cab. The city was packed with tourists and all the cabs were busy, busy, busy. We finally managed to grab a good corner and were able to get our ride just on time. We were about 15 minutes late for our reservation but the restaurant kindly held it for us and it was ready and waiting when we came in. Which restaurant? Well, NOPA. NOPA has made an appearance in this blog before, and it was actually good enough to merit a return. It's really hard when there are so many great places to go, to pick a place you've been over a brand shiny new place, but NOPA had all the qualities we wanted, most important being "open late enough." NOPA makes classic favorites using the requisite fresh, seasonal, etc. ingredients. You can't go wrong with a hamburger, and I indulged myself with a roast chicken and fries, since all of the "Bar ____" places were making me nostalgic for Paris. The chicken was giant. I did my best to devour it, but I couldn't quite make it. The meat was bright white and juicy. The skin was maybe not as crisp as I would have liked it, but that's easily overlooked.

Okay, just one more! Because this is getting looooong. Our last dinner was at Flour and Water. It's kind of a strange name, I have to say. The restaurant itself is Italian and once you know that it makes sense. But the name does not invoke Italy ... it's more like ... I don't know, it reminds me of The Good Earth restaurant where the name always for some reason invoked this very matronly, healthy sort of feeling that was off-putting to me. Something about "Flour and Water" is the same. I guess because flour and water on their own are not exactly tasty. You have to mess with them to make them into something delicious.

Anyway, the restaurant itself was fantastic. It was my favorite meal of the trip. J and I split a pizza and then had pastas for our main meals. I have been reading Heat, by Bill Buford and I had just been reading the section where he is in Italy with a woman who is famous for her pumpkin tortelli, which is a classic Italian recipe which appears in one of the oldest sources of written recipes. So I was thrilled when they had a pumpkin tortelli on the menu with fresh homemade pasta. I cannot think of anything that exemplifies autumn so much as a dish that uses pumpkin, sage, and butter. It was the perfect moment to eat it and it totally lived up to my rather high expectations. Everything in the restaurant is pretty lovingly homemade, and the service is fantastic, with everyone pitching in to wait tables so that you are never neglected. The server was also really helpful, answering all her questions in a way that showed she really knew the menu inside and out. Also, the price was not too bad for really good quality food and a nice atmosphere. We had a pizza, two pastas, a dessert, and two glasses of wine each and it came out to about $100 for both of us.

So that was mostly our trip! I left out the boring parts like shopping and stuff like that, and between the football and the work, and two exhausted people who needed to catch up on a lot of missed sleep, we didn't necessarily DO all that much, but we did have a lot of good food and that's pretty much enough for me. I can't wait until next year's trip now!


I think I'm reading about delicious food to torture myself....this is a great entry!!!

said by Anyanka at 9:20 AM Delete

Hey KT, long time no visits! I so miss food blogging--all the community and ALL THE FOOD! :) I'm glad to see that you are still contributing to the gastro-world. Congratulations!

said by Acme Instant Food at 9:29 PM Delete

Aww thanks so much! I have to admit ... I sometimes check out your blog ... just in case! Definitely let me know if there's anywhere I can keep updated on you. ^_^

said by KT at 10:41 PM Delete

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