Sunday, August 23, 2009

the gfd guide to san francisco

We were eating until the very end, munching on tiny, sweet champagne grapes from the farmers market in the cab on the way to the airport at 4:30 a.m. (damn you, yachstman, and your early-flight-booking ways).

Here's a list of my favorite San Francisco, food-related places, as well as a couple of other spots I visit whenever we're in town (feel free to add your own in the comments; we're still looking for the best taqueria, if anyone has an opinion).

There are lots of good, famous restaurants in San Francisco -- we had a great meal at The Slanted Door, the yachtsman's favorite is Jardiniere, my dad loves Gary Danko -- all of which you can read about in a guide book or at chowhound or tablehopper. If you're like me, you'll pick one of these places for a fancy night out, and spend the rest of your time eating Mexican or sushi or at A16, then stopping somewhere on your way home for dessert. The places listed here are the ones I want to visit not every few times I'm in the Bay Area, but on every single visit.

A16. If there are two of you, order four starters. If there are four, order twelve. Order a pizza or a pasta or an entree to share -- they're as amazing as what comes first, but you'll be so full on things like mozzarella burrata with olive oil, sea salt, and crostini; arugula salad with nectarines, fennel, walnuts and housemade ricotta salata; roasted asparagus with walnut crema and pecorino tartufo; caponata of tuna conserva, housemade friselle, early girl tomatoes, cucumbers, capers, and basil, that your entrees will come home in a body doggie bag.

I'm not an ice cream freak, but we went twice to Bi-Rite Creamery. The first night I got the brown sugar with ginger caramel swirl, the second I got the salted caramel. The yachtsman? Vanilla and balsamic strawberry.

Brown sugar ice cream with ginger caramel swirl from Bi-Rite Creamery

(If you're looking for a bountiful grocery store or prepared foods to eat in Dolores Park or on the plane on the way home, check out Bi-Rite Market across the street from the creamery, or Rainbow Grocery, the ultimate co-op.)

Dottie's True Blue Cafe was in my original San Francisco post, it'll be in my next, and so on. Every. single. time. we go to San Francisco, I'll be eating breakfast at Dottie's. Twice. I suggest you do the same. Do you need a reason? 1. Perfectly cooked, crispy, salty home fries. 2. Thick slices of buttermilk-dill toast. 3. A creamy frittata with avocado, tomato, jalapenos, feta, and corn. 4. Black bean cakes with eggs cooked your way and griddled cornbread. 5. Seriously, do you need FIVE reasons to go there? Just jump on a plane and go get in line already.

When the yachtsman worked for Greenpeace, he often stayed around the corner from El Metate. I can attest to the fish tacos, the yachtsman can speak to the carnitas. Both very, very good. They don't have a website, but you can find them at 2406 Bryant St., between 22nd & 23rd, in the Mission.

The Ferry Building Farmers Market made me ugly with jealousy. I wandered through those stalls and I coveted like those grapes and pluots and tomatoes and French yogurt were my neighbor's wife. I want to move to California.

Things I drooled over at Miette: homemade graham crackers; dark chocolate cupcakes with meringue frosting; gingerbread cupcakes with cream cheese frosting; burnt caramel coated with dark chocolate and topped with gray sea salt; pots de creme in pretty glass containers; homemade marshmallows; little pannacottas topped with tiny bits of chopped strawberry ... I could go on. What I bought: two (delicious) macarons.

Chocolate lavender macaron for me, vanilla macaron for the vanilla chris milla.

Popalote was highly recommended, we've been there on several visits, and it's a good taqueria, but here's the thing: they have vegetarian chorzio on the menu, I'm looking for lard in my refrieds.

Samovar is a tea lounge with several locations, though their original spot in the Castro/Mission is my favorite. I especially like to go for breakfast: the rice bowl with tofu and poached eggs (you're just going to have to trust me on this) is delicious, and I'm such a fan of the downy sprout white tea, I brought some home.

I don't know why it's good, but it is: the Egg Bowl at Samovar.

According to the yachtsman, Sanraku has the best sushi in San Francisco. I liked it, too, but according to the yachtsman, spicy tuna rolls don't qualify as sushi, and my opinion doesn't count.

Tartine, for baked goods and pressed sandwiches and a nice cup of tea. Both of the male employees who were there when I was had huge handlebar moustaches that may have been ironic, but they sure weren't pretty. Stare instead at your croissant.

Places to go between meals.

If I were rich, I'd open a bookstore. But I'm not, so instead I spend my time in other people's bookstores. One of my favorites is Green Apple Books, in the Richmond.

Kabuki is a Japanese bath house in, well, Japantown. Pay $22 for all-day access to the baths (and sauna and steam room) or splurge and get a massage, too. I got my first-ever shiatsu massage this past visit and the massage therapist actually slapped me. In a good way. But if you're not into that kind of thing, go with the Swedish.

Kinokunia Bookstore is heaven for anyone into pens. That's right, pens. They can be a fetish. And I'll admit it, I'm a pen fetishist. I originally visited Kinokunia because they're the only store in the U.S. that sells my favorite pen in the world, the Pilot Hi-Tec C. I've since found the Pilot online, but I still visit Kinokunia every time we're in San Francisco and spend at least an hour browsing. Japanese pens, pencils, erasers, notebooks, and other office supplies are much cooler than anything they make in the U.S. So if you're into pens, or you think you might be but aren't sure because your experience so far has been with Bics and your granddaddy's fountain pen (borrrrring), check this place out. And now I will stop talking about pens.

Rare Device is a little hipster/craftster store that's been curated more than it's been stocked. Lots of pretty (but not too pretty) things.

Disclaimer: I'm not from San Francisco, and other than a brief stint living with a drag queen/performance artist and a leather daddy/phone sex worker in SOMA before SOMA was a neighborhood with its own name (let alone its own acronym), I've never spent more than a week in the city, so there's obviously lots I'm missing. But those are a few of my favorite things.


  1. My biggest grief with modern-day pens is disposability. I went on a manhunt for the perfect red pen about 6 months ago. I came back with something that does the job and fits my criteria: click-top, refillable. But it took the office supply sales rep approximately 6 hours to find. For blue everyday pens, I also prefer refillables, but capping is just fine in that case. And my preference is the blue Jetstream. Office supplies are my life. My sad, small life.

    Glad the trip was a success. And I covet all who enter Kinokunia.

  2. I have been toying with the idea of buying the Tartine recipe book for some time now...I believe I might take the plunge now :)

  3. God, this totally makes me want to go to San Francisco and visit Deb and do everything on this list!

  4. my little cupcake, if their cookbook is as good as their cafe, it's worth it, though i hope you're in the market for both buying and writing cookbooks; i'd definitely buy yours! for now i'm happy to eat (more than) my fill of cupcakes at the williston farmers market...

  5. I think you should write some travel guidebooks. Do you have any similar suggestions for Boston?

  6. I sort of avoid Boston. It always seemed to me like a frat party for grown-ups. That's the official GFD travel guide to Boston: "It's a frat party for grown-ups."