Mon 14 Feb 2011
Work travel strikes again but at least this time I ended up in one of my favorite cities – San Francisco! Here are notes from the travel scratchpad. I took photos when appropriate; client dinners don’t always lend themselves to foodie habits. If you’re planning a trip there yourself, check out our past reviews in San Francisco.
Landing in San Francisco late in the evening, I was flying solo for dinner. I wandered from my hotel but was not lost. Boulevard was calling my name and I knew I could find a warm seat at the bar. The brasserie feel of the restaurant put me at ease immediately, as did the fact that it was so crowded at 9pm on a Tuesday night. I scraped my chair up to the bar and immediately landed on my dinner for the evening: pan-roasted California squab with homemade gnocchi, white truffles from Oregon, and roasted brussel sprouts. I was in heaven. The squab was rich and moist – slightly crispy on the outside but still the deep red I was hoping to see in the center. The soft, plump pillows of gnocchi melted on my tongue and the slight tang of the sprouts brought my palate back down to Earth. The by-the-glass wine list was a little pricey but a well-made bourbon cocktail soothed me into the rest of the evening. Their Michelin star is well-deserved.
Barbacco Eno Trattoria
Ask someone to come up with trademarks of the Bay Area and you’re likely to get similar answers: great food and technology. (It’s no shock that OpenTable is based there.) Barbacco has found the perfect way to blend both: the drink menu is on an iPad. Brilliant. But the restaurant is more than a tricked out lunch joint. The food was spot on: brussel sprouts lightly fried in duck fat might just spur a religious experience while the farro risotto melds a lesser known grain with a round, full-bodied flavor and the risotto texture I expect. Well done all around.
A Top Chef restaurant, another Michelin starred spot, late night burritos, and the top of my Next Time! Wishlist after the jump.
Something you don’t see most Thursday nights: well-heeled adults walking around with cellos, violins, and violas tucked under their arms. Absinthe was buzzing with a post-symphony crowd of musicians and concert attendees. My friend Brianna and I wandered in for dinner after our first choice hadn’t worked out.* Brianna recommended Absinthe just down the street in Hayes Valley. I’d only heard of Absinthe as the restaurant-of-origin from Top Chef’s Jaime. So… scallops on the menu? Turns out we got so much more than that. Current chef Adam Keough is running a tight ship of classic bistro fare in a straightforward manner. The food gets to speak for itself. The cocktails were varied, expertly crafted, and creative, making the wait for a table nearly painless (the bartender’s curtness was made up for by his deft pouring). Once seated, an appetizer of spicy fried chickpeas with berbere spice whetted our appetites. I couldn’t say no to a duck breast with coffee crust and apple turnip puree. Brianna and I raved about the meal. Good thing – turns out Chef Keough was having drinks with friends just behind us.
My work trip happened to coincide with San Francisco’s restaurant week, meaning the Michelin-starred One Market was in our price range. The restaurant markets itself to business lunch crowds and it shows: Its menu relies heavily on new takes on classics, which means lots of foams but (luckily) well-balanced flavors. I tried to stay healthy with a green salad and local fish, both of which were well-prepared. Still, I was left looking longingly at my tablemates homemade tortellini and squash soup. Our lunch meeting went extra-long (3+ hours) but, to her credit, our waitress never showed any impatience to move us along and was happy to keep our coffees refilled and brandished dessert menus at just the right moment.
I simply cannot set a toe in California without some taste of Mexican food. I don’t want anything fancy. In fact, the less fancy the better. Which is why Taqueria Cancun was the perfect late night pit stop after one too many rum cocktails at Smuggler’s Cove. Open late and dishing out classics with no fuss and less Ingles, I was in late night taco heaven. The toppings were fresh, textures were on target, and the prices were negligible. Only two things marred this from being the ultimate late night taqueria: a lack of horchata behind the counter and a sparkly-eyed family of meth heads at the table next to us. Actually, the faces of meth might have been lifesavers. The tacos had me feeling so good, I was actually thinking about going out for one more round before they scared me back into sobriety.
Raved about as the best burger joint in San Francisco, I was still skeptical about Gott’s Roadside. It was in the Ferry Building which meant it was surrounded by dozens of outstanding restaurant options like The Slanted Door, Boccalone, and Acme Bread. Why go for a burger in what was, let’s face facts here, not a burger town? DC’s cup runneth over with haute burger options. But I was swayed when I noticed the lunch crowd line queue up out of the building, down the block, and around the corner. Fine, I thought. I’ll try it. Gott’s is known for serving up fresh and local ingredients in their family-run kitchen. I went with a classic: full loaded burger and sweet potato fries. While this isn’t fast food for sure (I think One Market got its appetizers to me in less time), the burger was fresh and juicy. The fries were decent… too skinny to get any real sweet potato flavor. If I worked in the neighborhood, Gotts would be a great indulgent lunch option. But DCers don’t despair: For the record, Ray’s Hellburger churns out a better burger.
Smuggler’s Cove is too hilarious and odd not to mention. If you find yourself in Hayes Valley, treat yourself to a tropical themed cocktail in this 3-story rum bar. The menu is extensive. The crowd is energetic. The music is just cheesy enough to be fun.
*Next Time! Wishlist: Straw.
If the phrase “carnival-themed restaurant” doesn’t make you perk up, we will probably never be friends. Straw had just opened in Hayes Valley the week I was in town. The restaurant’s dining space is the size of a Capitol Hill front yard, making Friday night tables as plentiful as cheap studios in Georgetown. The quirky appeal wasn’t lost on its key audience. Who wouldn’t want to eat dinner from the comfy seat of a retired Tilt-a-Whirl? I hope Straw is still around on my next trip back to the Bay, because I’m dying to try it.