The second half of our trip mirrored our first half—everything was good and one meal shone above the others. We had some wonderful lunches and our wonderful weather continued.
One of the first places we had eaten lunch was in Berkeley and was delicious pizza. Gioia pizza is a little mom and pop type place that specializes in New York style pizza with some unique California toppings (although they do have the regular, pepperoni and cheese as well). Anyway, I had a couple slices, but my favorite one was the one with radicchio, bacon and gorgonzola. Wow, what an amazing flavor combination. (Sorry about the picture, I got a little ahead of myself with the eating before I thought to take a shot). The crust was perfectly crispy, yet bendy and everyone in the place was exceedingly friendly.
We had a very quiet and pleasant dinner at a restaurant called Benu. This is the physical space that used to house a restaurant which was the one in which hubby proposed to me—we wanted to go for that reason, as well as for others—the fact that several of the chefs in the place are from French Laundry, and the fact that it has gotten lots of good reviews. The place was extremely modern and actually small (they had actually reduced the interior space). And while it felt quite formal, the people working were exceptionally nice and accommodating. Honestly though, while we had a very nice dinner, there wasn’t any one course that really stuck out for me. I am posting a picture of the lovely abalone grenobloise starter (brown butter, parsley, capers and lemon) ($16), mainly for my Dad who loves abalone, and while the flavors were great, I just think abalone is on the whole a little chewy for me. Hubby loved the “chocolate pudding” dessert ($14)—it was quite unique in presentation. It was slightly more gelatinous in firmness than most, and formed into an “S” on the plate. I loved the crunchy candied barely and walnuts and the sour cherry ice cream alongside. It was fun and tasted really good.
After strolling through Chinatown with the kids one morning, we ended up near another old favorite place where hubby and I used to meet at back in our young single days after work. Plouf (means “the sound a stone makes as it is dropped into a stream” in French, how cute is that?) is a classic French bistro and is the place that made me love mussels. This is a place that nearly everyone who ever visited us in San Francisco went to with us at one time or another. One of the things I love about it is its
location in an alley in the financial district of San Francisco. There are several other restaurants in the alley, and on nice days, the street is jammed with tables (which is precisely where we sat). I had the mussels (of course) ($15.50) and hubby and my son split steak frites ($22) which I also had a bite of. Nothing like a hanger steak with a big dollop of truffle butter to run your fries through. Anyway, the thing about their mussels, that I hadn’t really realized until I took the time to compare them to others, is they put them in an iron pot which keeps them, as well as the broth, warm throughout the whole meal (hot actually). Also, they broth probably fills 2/3 of the pot giving them a decadent moistness—you don’t have to make a well (as hubby calls it) to get to it to dip your mussel or bread. Their mariniere is very traditional—white wine, parsley, lots of shallots, and lemon. Simplicity and perfection. And I would like to say thank you to Plouf for knowing what a macchiato is without me having to explain it (shot of espresso with just a little foam on top). I am wagging my finger at you Starbucks for that monstrosity you call a macchiato.
Our final dinner with very dear friends was at Prospect. Prospect is a collaboration of Nancy Oakes, the chef at Boulevard, which is a San Francisco legend. This is sort of the more casual little sister of Boulevard (which I also love). It is probably a bit younger crowd too (and is more moderately priced). This was a completely lovely meal. One of the more unique dishes was the seared calamari and octopus with clams and chorizo sausage ($16.50). The sausage was almost like a sloppy joe consistency underneath the seafood. Sausage and clams are a combination I have liked for awhile, and this one was no exception. The calamari was served as several large whole tubes, and was well seasoned and not chewy. The clams were perfect as well. But these were heavy earthy flavors, which was an interesting contrast to the flavor of the seafood. There were also some garlicky potatoes as well. One of the other amazing dishes was one of my friend’s duck. I only had a bite, but it may have been the best duck I have ever eaten. Prospect along with Frances, from my first San Francisco post, would be the two places of all the new places we went I would recommend to people. (Of course you can’t go wrong with Chez Panisse or Plouf either).
This was a wonderful trip, a whirlwind really, of great culinary experiences, nice time with friends and weather that could not have been better. I can’t wait to go back, because it is so nice to visit a place that was once your home and instantly feel at home again. It may be awhile though; we really need to explore some places more on our side of the country first. Where is your favorite vacation spot? And more specifically, your favorite food vacation spot?
1586 Hopkins Street
Berkeley, CA 94707
22 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
40 Belden Lane
San Francisco, CA
300 Spear Street
San Francisco, CA 94105