Saturday 16 June 2012

Tip top tips for a culinary trip to San Francisco

I recently returned from a two week tour de force sampling the best culinary offerings in San Francisco and the Bay Area.  Obviously I wasn't organised enough to get a reservation at the French Laundry, but I thought I would nevertheless share some of the highs (and the lows) in a city which many proclaim to be the home of inventive cooking in the US.

On the day we arrived in "Everyone's Favourite City" we went to a place called Brenda's French Soul Food.  I have to confess I was mostly asleep during this meal, having endured a rather tortuous trip over with Virgin Atlantic, however from my hazy recollections the food here was very good indeed.  Creole-inspired French cuisine may not be what San Francisco is traditionally all about, but Brenda's nevertheless seems to have hit the spot.  We started with baked oysters done three ways, followed by cheese grits (which put Spuntino's, admittedly perfectly acceptable version, to shame) and fried chicken with incredibly light "biscuit" - an unleavened bread, similar in many ways to a scone, often served in the US with gravy.

The next morning we went to Dottie's True Blue Cafe - San Francisco's equivalence of The Breakfast Club - queues snake around the block.  Thankfully we had jet lag on our side and were sat, ready to devour our first American breakfast, by seven thirty sharp. I had the scrambled eggs with smoked whisky fennel sausage, mushrooms and spinach - delicious. The Fashionista had the French Toast with strawberries and balsamic reduction, good for a while, but a bit sickly for me.  Huge portions!

Mission Chinese, which serves up Chinese inspired Californian cuisine, has been receiving rave reviews coast to coast in the USA.  Such has been the clamour that chef Danny Bowien is even opening an outpost in NYC. However we were going to where it all started, the Mission district of San Fran (for which read Shoreditch, London). It is a ramshackle restaurant lit by fairy lights, with a large red dragon hanging from the ceiling, but with RnB providing the beats.  A clash of cultures which continues onto the menu.  We had "Mouth Watering Chicken" - cold chicken breast with chicken hearts - heavily-laden with Szechuan pepper- the radishes with pig jowl, broccoli with beef jowl (lacked cheek) some fried rice (pretty good), and tea smoked eel served wrapped in thick noodles with cognac, which was very good indeed.  My conclusion, interesting, rather than great.

On the Friday night we went to what can only be described as Eat Street and Borough Market rolled into one, Off the Grid.  Food trucks have undergone a revolution in SF in recent years - from our equivalent of a greasy spoon, they have morphed into outlets serving some top notch produce with ground-breaking innovation. On each Friday over 30 such vendors descend on a car park in the Marina district to serve up their wares.  A great night with delicious treats from such trucks as the Chairman's buns and Koja Kitchen.

Chairman's buns
We had been recommended Nopa by a couple we met just before heading off - "the best burger in San Francisco".  A high standard indeed.  It beat the likes of Umami Burger hands down, although was pipped to the post as the best burger on the trip by the burger served at Treebones in the Big Sur.

The highlight of the trip was Coi - the two Michelin-starred stalwart of Californian cuisine.  To do it justice I have written it up as a seperate blog, but needless to say Coi will provide you with a dining experience different from anything you have had previously. No cream, no butter, delicious food.  How?  Top notch.

Other highlights of the trip included Humphrey Slocombe ice cream (the salted dark chocolate was incredible), Hog Island Oyster Company (nice in the city, better up at the farm in Marshall on Tomales Bay, if you can make it up there), Delfina in Mission (the tripe was special), Tartine for baked goods and Cafe la Haye in Sonoma, for inventive Cali-Italian cuisine.

Places which disappointed despite previous positive reviews included Pica Pica, Venezuelan sandwiches - think I will stick to wheat rather than maize bread from now on, another craze I just don't get - and Umami Burger, despite its legendary status, even GBK would give it a run for its money.

Nopa on Urbanspoon Umami Burger on Urbanspoon Pica Pica Maize Kitchen on Urbanspoon Delfina on Urbanspoon Hog Island Oyster Company on Urbanspoon Mission Chinese Food on Urbanspoon
Humphry Slocombe on Urbanspoon Tartine Bakery on Urbanspoon Cafe La Haye on Urbanspoon Brenda's French Soul Food on Urbanspoon Dottie's True Blue Cafe on Urbanspoon

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