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SF Food Orgy


Zeb A
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My wife and I went to San Francisco for a continuing legal education seminar at the beginning of the month. When we weren't in class, we were eating and drinking (or sleeping in our tiny tiny hotel room). Attached are food-related selections from a journal we kept about the trip. We both added to the journal which is why is sounds schizophrenic. Also, the intended audience was our family, not this esteemed group of food critics, which explains the style. The restaurants at which we ate were Gary Danko, Aqua, Chez Panisse, Pazzia, Zuni Cafe, Slanted Door, and Tommy's Mexican Restaurant. Here it is:

Day #1:

Dinner tonight was at Gary Danko, http://www.garydanko.com/flash/GaryDanko.html. We opted for a “make your own” tasting menu as follows:

Deanna:

Duck Proscuitto and Foie Gras Torchon with Fresh Black Mission Figs

Seared Scallops with Butternut Squash Puree and Chanterelle Mushrooms

Loin of Lamb with Wild Mushroom Bulgur Pilaf and Artichoke-Onion Ragout

Selection of Farmhouse and Artisanal Cheeses

Baked Chocolate Souffle with Chocolate Sauce and Crème Anglaise

Zeb:

Sweet White Corn Soup with Black Cod and Basil Oil

Horseradish Crusted Salmon Medallion with Dilled Cucumbers

Moroccan Spiced Squab with Chermoula, Orange-Cumin Carrots

Selection of Farmhouse and Artisanal Cheeses

Trio of Crème Brulee with Cookies

We drank a half-bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and a bottle of Kunin Syrah, both yummy. The table at which we sat interestingly positioned us side by side and looking out at the entire room, including a large wall length mirror that was across the room.

The restaurant itself was small. Basically it was two rooms with a bar. Large colorful art pieces and mirrors made the space seem bigger than it is. The atmosphere was pretty formal, but not oppressively stuffy. The crowd was surprisingly eclectic: suits to short sleeves. We had semi-obnoxious people on either side of us. To the left were two couples who insisted on acting like they knew more than they did. To our right were three guys who brought their own wine and flirted with the young sommelier. The wait staff was very attentive; however, our primary waitress was a bit of an odd bird (when we mentioned that we like the triple cream cheese, she said, “Triple cream—whenever I see it I want to sit on it because that is where it is going to go anyway.”) But she was nice, and the overall experience was quite good. This was particularly impressive because, by the time the meal ended, we had been awake for over 20 hours and were pretty brain dead.

The food was great. The foie gras was very rich and tasty, but the soup was outstanding—rich, sweet, and quite “corny.” The next course was the best. Both the scallops and the salmon were outstanding. The dilled cucumbers were an excellent accompaniment to the horseradish-crusted salmon. The meat course was very good as well, but we were quite surprised about the similarity between the seasoning on the lamb and squab. Both reminded me of the dinner we had at the Cape Malay Kitchen restaurant outside of Cape Town—very flavorful spices. Cheese was, not surprisingly, very good. The cart had roughly 18 options, divided by milk derivation (cow, sheep, goat). I can’t begin to remember what we had, but a triple cream called something like Red Hawk was particularly memorable. We also had an unusual Portuguese cheese that was ok tasting, but striking because of its gritty texture. Desserts were good, but rather ordinary. The soufflé was your basic soufflé. The three brulees were vanilla, orange, and chocolate. Very good, but basic.

Day #2

The next day we had lunch at Aqua, http://www.nextcenturyrestaurants.com/aquamain.htm, one of the restaurants we considered for dinner, but just couldn’t work into the itinerary. This was an inspired idea by Deanna—well done!

Aqua, not surprisingly, specializes in seafood. I believe this might have been the best lunch I ever had. Zeb ordered a nice bottle of Morgan Sauvignon Blanc and we ate the following:

Deanna:

Tempura Prawns with Spicy Mango Salsa and Hot & Sour Vinaigrette

Bacon-Wrapped Scallops with Crème Fraiche Potato Puree and White Port Sweet Corn

Sauce

Zeb:

Smoked Salmon Stuffed with Crème Fraiche Over Spoon Bread with Lobster Cream

Sea Bass with Andouille Ragout and Lobster Marscapone Tortellini

As much as it pained us, we skipped dessert since we have early dinner reservations.

The restaurant itself was fairly ordinary, but with big mirrors that made it seem like a larger space. Tables were close together, and it was a bustling lunchtime crowd, chock full of banker, lawyer, business types. It was comfortable, but crowded. Service was very good, despite the crowd. The more I reflect on this lunch, the more I like it. Each of the dishes we ate was very very good. Nothing seemed to be particularly complicated—but the taste was exceptional. We had originally planned to eat dinner here, but ultimately decided to go elsewhere because an all seafood menu (it isn’t) didn’t sound as appealing as some of our other options. I sure am glad that we found time to come here—we had an excellent and fun lunch!!

Dinner tonight was at Chez Panisse, http://www.chezpanisse.com/. The restaurant serves a different, single set menu each day. The restaurant is known for its incredibly fresh vegetables, fresh baked bread and best available local meats and fish.

Our menu was incredibly simple:

Green Bean and Salt Cod Salad with Pickled Onions and Frisee

Summer Chanterelle Ragout On Toast with Savory and Pancetta

Spit-Roasted Hoffman Farm Chicken Stuffed Under the Skin with Ricotta, with Arugula

And Fried New Potatoes

Crème Panisse – Vanilla Custard with Raspberry Coulis

Although simple, everything on every plate was incredible. The salad contained tender, crisp green beans, small slices of briny salt cod, delicate, vinegary red onions, sprigs of frisee dressed lightly and a half of a soft-boiled, bright orange-yolked egg. The mushroom ragout was rich and earthy, spooned on top of a piece of slightly toasted bread with squares of crisp pancetta. The chicken, Zeb and I agreed, was chicken. Good, no doubt, but I couldn’t help thinking I wished it were lamb or duck or something less like . . . chicken. Anyway, the arugula and potatoes were a nice accompaniment to the dish. Dessert was perhaps the most incredible thing I ever put in my mouth – a big round bowl with a thin layer of milky, creamy custard covered with an equally thin layer of bright red, tart, raspberry sauce. As we were paying our bill, we heard the couple at the table next to us attempting to get a third bowl of the custard – ingenious! In my opinion, this was the best meal we had in San Francisco.

I also thought this was the best meal we had. It is interesting because, the day before our trip, I pulled up the menus for Danko and Panisse on the web. Deanna and I both “oohed and aahed” over the many options on the Danko menu and were disappointed that we appeared to have signed up for chicken and mushroom night at Panisse. Boy, were we wrong. It’s not so much that Danko wasn’t good (it was very good), but that Panisse seemed so much better the next night. To begin with, the food was simple, yet incredibly tasty. I agree with everything Deanna said. The only mild disappointment was the chicken, which was rather ordinary. But, it wasn’t just the food that made Chez Panisse such an enjoyable restaurant—it was the atmosphere. I can’t recall ever going to a restaurant that had such a high caliber of food while maintaining a completely relaxed feel. It is a very comfortable restaurant where you never feel like you have to whisper. We had a drink before dinner upstairs, where there is a more casual menu that includes pizza etc. It was positively raucous. Downstairs, where the menu is price fixe, the atmosphere is more calm, but still easy-going. That’s not to say the service wasn’t great—it was. But, the service didn’t make you feel at all self-conscious. The odd non-symmetrical design to the restaurant space contributed to a cozier feel. I couldn’t have been happier with this dinner—a real unique restaurant, and my favorite that we discovered on this trip.

Day #3

On recommendation of the concierge at the Marriott, we walked to Pazzia for lunch. We sat at a table outside as this, and everyday we have been in San Francisco, was a gorgeous day. Pazzia is a small, family-run Italian restaurant and we managed to eat the following:

Caprese Salad with Tomatoes and Fresh Mozzarella

Antipasto of various meats, cheese, olives and artichokes

Homemade Ravioli Stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta with Bolognese Sauce

Homemade Fettuccine with Prawns and Asparagus

Biscotti and Vin Santo

Bottle of Pelligrino

Bottle of Pinot Grigio

This restaurant was a real find. It is the first place we went without any advance recommendation, and it was a very pleasant surprise. Located close to our hotel on Third Street, it was very handy. The salad an antipasto were very good, but unsurprising. The homemade ravioli that I ordered was outstanding. Service was excellent, and the two friendly waitresses made us feel like we were regulars. Once again, we left lunch stuffed, happy, and sleepy. Here is the some information about the restaurant that I later found on the web:

Massimo Ballerini and Marco Sassone were both born in Florence. Massimo’s family owns and runs the restaurant I Ghibellini, considered one of the finest restaurants in Florence specializing in Tuscan cuisine. Pazzia specializes in homemade breads, pizza, pasta, and deserts prepared daily.

http://www.pazzia.citysearch.com/

Dinner was at Zuni Café. Our reservations weren’t until 9:00, so we went across the street to Martuni’s, a bar specializing in martinis. Dinner at Zuni was yummy. The three of us shared a bottle of Pinot Grigio and whole bunch of tasty food (three different kinds of oysters, Caesar salad, polenta, linguine with Chanterelles, Steelhead Salmon and Squab). For dessert, Zeb got gorgonzola with honey and pecorino and J and I got a rich chocolate cake with whipped cream and a custard with huckleberry sauce.

Zuni was a fun place and not nearly as expensive as our last two dinner locations. Downstairs was a long bar around which many people crowded, drinking drinks and eating oysters. This place was very crowded and had a fun vibe. I am sure that if we lived here, we’d often come here. The food was good; however, nothing was really remarkable. The most memorable things we ate were the oysters and the desserts. Everything else tasted exactly like you would have expected, nothing more, nothing less. We didn’t order the famed chicken because, after last night, we were chickened out. A fun night.

Day #4

Lunch was at The Slanted Door, a Vietnamese restaurant that I had really been looking forward to visiting. We had reservations for dinner, but J thought another place might be better for dinner, so we headed to Slanted Door for lunch. I’m a sucker for all food Asian, but even Zeb agreed this lunch was outstanding:

Imperial rolls

Thick Homemade Noodles with Prawns

Five Spiced Chicken

Mesquite Grilled Ahi Tuna

Shaking Beef

Green Beans

Black Rice Pudding

Huckleberry Soup with Lemon Cookies

Slanted Door is currently located in a temporary location on Brannan Street. Since it is supposedly a temporary facility, I kind of expected a dump—but the restaurant is really nice. There is an open kitchen in the back, and a nice bar with a view of the water in the front. We ordered a bunch of everything and shared. I thought it all was great. The real standouts for me were the Mesquite Grilled Ahi Tuna and the Shaking Beef. I am not usually a big fan of Asian food because it always seems to be covered in some kind of sweet and goopy sauce. Not so with this food—most courses simply had a thin side sauce in a separate dish. I have no idea what Vietnamese food is supposed to be like, but I was surprised at how un-unusual the food was. Either that means that Vietnamese food is not very foreign or this restaurant doesn’t serve traditional Vietnamese food. Frankly, I don’t really care which is true, because authentic or not, the food was very good. Our Rice Pudding dessert was very odd—not at all sweet, but I seem to recall it more favorably now than I did at the time. Worth a try.

Hard to believe, but it was time to eat again! J knows Zeb loves Mexican, so she decided to take us to Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, http://www.tommystequila.com/index2.html, for dinner – a small, family run place in the Richmond District, specializing in food from the Yucatan area of Mexico. At 7:00, the place was absolutely packed. We squeezed our way into the bar for a pitcher of their famous margaritas, each batch made from scratch, including the fastest squeezed limes ever, and tasted before served. Boring Zeb had Coronas again. Our wait for dinner was not too bad, and we had chips and salsa while we waited. I had Carne Asada, thin steak with grilled onions, and Zeb had a cheese enchilada and a chicken tamale. Food was great, but all four of us were comatose and ready to head back to J’s.

As a connoisseur of cheap Mexican food, I can certify that this was authentic cheap Mexican food. It was actually a real neat place. A raucous crowd and friendly bartender are the main attractions. It is a small place, with traditional Mexican restaurant trappings. The food was your basic Mexican fare.

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Zeb A

A message from Tasmania.

Delighted by your detailed reviews. Sounds like one of our long weekends in SFO.

We agree about Chez Panisse. It is a place for purists. Clean flavours, pure ingredients. We also love Danko, Zuni, and the Slanted Door.

Glad you enjoyed the experience. It makes us think that we need to visit again soon....hmmm!

Roger McShane

Foodtourist.com

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  • 2 months later...

Interesting -- most the people I trust who like Slanted Door go there for lunch. I assume there is a huge difference in attitude; I wonder if there is also a difference in quality of food (given a slower pace) or perhaps that people don't expect as much for lunch and, therefore, the food gets higher reviews.

It's nice to hear that Tommy's is more than a place for the post-college crowd to drink tequilas. I think I'll go tonight.

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Zeb,

Outstanding report. Having eaten at each of these restaurants, several times, I would say you were right on in your assessment. I was sorry to see that you did not order the tuna tartare at Aqua. It is the best you will ever try. And Slanted Door is not going anywhere. They are staying put in their new, much fancier location.

Mosnow

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And Slanted Door is not going anywhere.  They are staying put in their new, much fancier location.

Mosnow

Did SD give up on moving back to the Mission? My understanding is that they moved to the downtown area temporarily because their building in the Mission had to be retrofitted, but when they decided use that opportunity to expand into the vacant place next door, the neighborhood threw a hissy fit and got their permit denied. (Seems that the neighborhood thought and expanded SD would harm the area's distinctive urine/vomit/feces appeal.) I'd be surprised if SD didn't move back, because I'm told they were the first "nice" restaurant in the Mission and had a big hand in revitalizing the neighborhood.

Edited by Dstone001 (log)
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