Monday, April 11, 2011

U.S. Adventures: San Francisco Part 1

Wow.  A completely amazing trip to San Francisco for Spring Break—we had amazing weather, a rarity in San Francisco.  I mean it was truly perfect. Mid 70s, sunny, and we barely saw fog. I know from living there so long, you can never count on such a perfect week and appreciated every single second.  My kids on the other hand, think that is just how San Francisco is.
We ate so much and so well it is hard to even digest it all, so to speak.  But because I could probably write a month’s worth of posts about it, I will spare you every single course of every single meal, and just hit the highlights of each restaurant in a couple of posts.  Of course, I am always happy to discuss any of them in more detail if anyone wants to hear about them. Just shoot me an email.
Besides having a great meal of a big pile of Dungeness crabs with friends at their house, we ate most of our dinners out.  We were also quite blessed to have our former sitter still living in the City, so we could go out with friends or just on our own.  The first amazing meal I ate, and possibly one of my favorites of the entire trip was a lunch date with a girlfriend to Chez Panisse in Berkeley.
The blood orange, miner’s lettuce and avocado salad ($9) was stellar, but the real star for me was the pasta dish I had.  Housemade rigatoni with beautiful asparagus and a very light cream sauce made with lots of black pepper and fresh chervil ($18).  This is exactly the kind of pasta I miss in Indy.  The rigatoni was so tender and the sauce, while cream based, was light and delicate, and the chervil was a completely different herby flavor than your usual pasta seasoning.
 It combined with the asparagus, which was cut into pieces, the same as the pasta and then sliced lengthways so that it was perfectly cooked, tender yet with a bit of crunch still in it, tasted like pure spring. I ate every single bite (except the few I gave my friend) and that is rare for me. Honestly, I wished I had more.  I have eaten at Chez Panisse café a few times, but had never gotten to sit in the little front bay window looking out over the blossoming trees.  It was marvelous dishing with a good friend I hadn’t seen in several years, and eating impeccable food. One of my favorite food moments of the trip.
Of course, the next meal was Frances, with some former co-workers of mine and it was also a highlight.  This is a teeny little restaurant in the Castro neighborhood.  Top to bottom, this was one of the best of the trip.  The two big highlights for me though, were the Applewood smoked bacon beignets ($6.50) and my entrée which was black bass ($28).  The bacon beignets were on the “pre-appetizer” menu, and we shared several of the items.  They were little fried balls of slightly sweet dough with salty, smoky dices of bacon mixed in.  They were served with a chive maple crème fraiche dip on the side.  The slightly sour taste of the crème fraiche was a great balance. And of course the slight maple flavor goes perfect with bacon.  Seriously, I think the state fair needs to add these to its deep fried repertoire. 
The black bass was one of the best fish dishes I have had in ages.  It was a smallish portion of perfectly cooked fish—slightly crisp on the outside, and perfectly tender and moist on the inside. It was served on a bed of spring onion risotto which was also perfectly prepared. I have stopped ordering a lot of risotto because it is so often under or over cooked.  This one was creamy and light, mixed with fresh green spring onions and topped with the most amazing sweet onions—I would describe them as “melted.”  They weren’t caramelized, because they had little color on them, but they were so soft and sweet.  The sauce was a very light white sauce that went lovely with the fish and the onions.  And there was more of that miner’s lettuce on top (very popular all over San Francisco).
I really liked this place—although it was quite noisy because it was so small, it was a very friendly, causal neighborhood spot that was serving top notch food.  And the prices were very reasonable.  We had a lot of food, a lot of wine, and our part of the bill was $150—that is a good deal in San Francisco.  If you want to read a more in depth description of this meal though, you are in luck.  One of the friends I was with (and the one who kindly got our reservation months ago) also writes a blog (I am happy to say that I inspired her to start hers) and loves to order lots of stuff to try as well.  You can check out her post on the same meal here, and you will notice some of the same pictures, as I took them all. (Her camera was dead.  I told her it is always good to bring a back-up blogger with you). 
We also hit one of our favorite casual, seaside places for lunch one day with the kids.  Barbara’s Fish Trap is one of those places that is little, sits on a bay, and is always full of people, both tourists and locals.  It was the place I went to the day I got off the plane when I moved to San Francisco. First, the clam chowder may be my favorite in the world.  It is not the creamy type, more of the type that is almost like a stew.  It is made with lots of large pieces
 of clam, potatoes, celery and seasonings. I love this stuff, especially with some oyster crackers on top.  Their tempura battered seafood is also great—we split the small size of the fish and chips (local rock fish) and prawns and chips (each around $8).  I have eaten at this place and never been disappointed. And I am happy to say my 5 year old loved the fish—the last time he was there, he was less than a year old and did not partake.  The drive to Barbara’s is beautiful, south along Highway 1 on the sheer cliffs overlooking the Pacific.  This was the one day we saw a bit of fog, but even it was beautiful.
Quince was the one place for dinner in San Francisco that we wanted to repeat as it was one of our favorites before we moved.  It has changed a lot though since we were there. It moved locations to the other side of the City, got much larger, and much more upscale.  For me, honestly, this was not a good thing.  Everything just got a little too schmancy for me I guess.  One of the highlights was the free stuff—the little pre-appetizer stuff they brought was delicious.  Fluke sashimi, a lobster croquette, beet with goat cheese and a little cauliflower mousse.  They were delicious little bites.  And the butter that came with the bread.  One was very nice regular butter, but the other one was creamy, slightly sour goat butter. It was good. We ate a lot of it.  My favorite dish of the evening was the asparagus appetizer that hubby and I split.  It was “first of the season” white asparagus with speck (very thin ham), egg and burrata cheese ($20).   The burrata cheese mixed with the yolk from the egg made a decadent creamy sauce for the asparagus.  The speck added the right amount of saltiness.  Something about eggs and asparagus though. Perfect combination.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of it.  But I DID get a picture of the cheese cart that we chose our dessert from ($6 per cheese). Look at that thing. A thing of beauty it was.  And the cheeses were lovely.
Sound good? Just wait til my next San Francisco post, where we hit on another restaurant that was one of the highlights of the trip. And another one that is run by several of the former associate chefs from the French Laundry…
Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709

3870 17th Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

Barbara’s Fish Trap
281 Capistrano Road      
Princeton by the Sea, CA 94018

470 Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133


  1. Loved this... and can't wait 'til Part 2. Now I totally need to plan a San Francisco trip. I've only been to S.F. once and I think I ate about 4 times a day. I loved it. Great stuff Erin!

  2. Jessica in NoblesvilleApril 12, 2011 at 6:30 PM

    So jealous, but love reading about your culinary adventures. I was lucky enough to live in Berkeley for 6 months and went to Chez Panisse for lunch twice, and Greens once ... both were stellar. The French Laundry is on my "bucket list" and will happen before I depart this earth. And nothing beats eating clam chowder from a sourdough bread bowl while strolling along the SF piers, serenaded by sea lions.

    Can't wait to see your next review.

  3. I think it's hilarious that I follow your blog and your buddy's blog. Last year we moved from Indy to Oakland and we are definitely enjoying the food scene out here:) Can't wait to try Chez Panisse!


  4. Love the post. I feel like I was there! Oh, wait, I was~ So enjoyed catching up over such good food. You make me want to run out for that pasta at Chez Panisse. Think I will!

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