April 9, 2011

Head Over Hills for San Francisco: Part II

After a few days of technical challenges in getting the rest of my photos from the trip uploaded, I think I am back in business. Thank god for tech-savvy husbands who are patient and care about their wife's blogging.

Here is round two of our fabulous food aventures in SF. It includes the only disappointing meal we had (which was far away from being a bad meal), the benefit of being on vacation when you can’t decide what to have for breakfast, and the most delicious chicken I’ve ever had.

When giddy turns to disappointed @ Chez Panisse

Anyone who loves food knows about Alice Waters and her restaurant Chez Panisse. She's a legend. And I've been looking forward to going to Chez Panisse for months. Months. You have to be on top of your game to get in. They only take reservations up to one month in advance, and you pretty much have to make the reservation exactly one month in advance for any hope of getting in. Check, thanks to reminders on my Outlook calendar at work.

We showed up, I was beyond excited. I even took a picture of the entrance. I was completely giddy.

We made our way up to the bar on the second floor, got a glass of wine, got a little bit of snobbiness from who I'm guessing was the manager, and waited patiently to be seated. (We were early of course.)

We did the tasting menu--four courses of promised seasonal goodness.

Spring vegetable salad with lemongrass vinaigrette

Local rockfish in a bouillabaisse broth cooked in the fireplace with rouille and toast

Spit-roasted Becker Lane pork shoulder with star anise and coriander, potato and green garlic galette, and garden greens

Meyer lemon meringue tart

Was the food good? Yes, of course.

Did I like it? Think so.

Was it what I expected? Mmm, not really.

To be completely totally brutally honest, I was disappointed with Chez Panisse. Maybe (surely) I had unfairly high expectations. I went in expecting to be blown away and just wasn't. The actual restaurant was charming, a craftsman-style house, with a few romantic nooks and crannies that you'd pay extra for to be seated in. And of course the food was expertly prepared. But have I had similar food before? Sure have. Waters may have invented seasonal cooking in Berkeley, but she isn't the only one doing it anymore. I think I just made my pilgrimage too late in life. Sigh.

Fishies out of water in search of coffee and burritos

As I've said before, I do my research before a trip. I enlist the help of my foodie loving friends and countless reviews and articles. My previous SF resident friend Emily hooked me up with a thorough list of places we needed to try. Philz Coffee and Pancho Villa were on the list, and were definitely two places that we probably would have missed without her. They were both on blocks that I wouldn't have gone to on my own. I was slightly out of my element. But good food awaited. I was sure of it. And there isn't a whole lot that will stop me when that is the case.

Philz was like a totally grunged out version of Uptown (but somehow in a good way). Great coffee, great personality. And the best part? The mint leaves that they place in your coffee with cream that steep and give off an amazing aroma. Will be doing this at home for sure.

Pancho Villa was our burrito fix. After all, we were in a land much better known for its Mexican than Mpls is. I knew as soon as we parked the car that we'd have a good burrito. Probably everyone inside Pancho Villa besides us spoke Spanish: a good sign. Carnitas, black beans, rice, cheese, pico. All wrapped up in foil. Yum.

The most delicious chicken I've ever had

I was planning to score some major brownie points with Zach at Zuni Cafe. They are known for their roast chicken for two served atop a warm bread salad. Zach loooooooooooves chicken. "It's so versatile," he says. Versatility isn't what I judge foods by when deciding how much I like them, but okay, I roll with it. I knew he'd love this roast chicken for two. And I decided ahead of time that I'd be a good wifey and have the roast chicken with him.

As a result, I will be dreaming of this chicken for a long time. What came to our table was not your average chicken. It was delicious. So moist, so flavorful. And the bread salad that laid under it, soaking up its chicken juices was amazing. Big chunks of grilled bread, pine nuts, tiny little currants to provide the faintest hit of sweetness. All soaking up in a vinaigrette that was packing a vinegary punch. It was amazing. Truly a memorable meal.

Drive-by cake purchasing

So we had actually changed the time of our reservation at Zuni to an hour earlier that day. It was our last full day in SF, and I was getting antsy about not having crossed all of the places on my list off. Citizen Cake still remained. And this cake eater was not about to miss it.

So we ate our beyond delicious chicken for two, hailed a cab, and worked our way over to Citizen Cake for dessert to go. I wisely chose a chocolate banana peanut butter mousse tart. Riiiiiiii-diculous. And very much over the top. Zach not quite as wisely chose a s'mores brownie that I didn't really think tasted anything like s'mores. But to each their own.

I'll have one of each, please

What do you usually do when you can't decide what to order when out for breakfast? You suck it up and pick one, hoping you won't regret your decision.

What do you do when you're on vacation and you can't decide what to order when out for breakfast? You order one of each. It is vacation, after all.

One morning we really got adventurous and decided to try somewhere besides Tartine for breakfast. We decided to try Zazie.

Ironically, as we'd come to find out, we picked a particularly difficult day to do this. As we pulled into a parking spot on the street, we saw a sign that said "No parking 1st  Friday of the month." Oh, we're fine, I thought. And then I did the mental calculation. Nevermind, we weren't fine. It was in fact, the first Friday of the month. Of course.

After a lot of driving around and a very thorough tour of a new neighborhood by car, we finally found a spot, filled the meter with every last dime we had in our wallets, and got to eat. I had worked up an appetite by this point and both the crab egg benedict and the cornmeal pancakes with lemon curd sounded good. So I ordered both. And didn't for one second feel bad about it.

The crab was obviously a real treat. Light, rich, the perfect bed for a poached egg with holandaise running down it.

The cornmeal pancake was also a treat. Turns out lemon curd on a cornmeal pancake is a do, especially when you smear the pancake with butter first, and then also pour syrup over the top. I am so my father's daughter sometimes.

Are you hungry yet? I am. If you ever need a SF travel companion, you know who to call. I promise you'll eat well.

For the next and final installment, we'll move along to Sonoma (and the Radisson we stayed at the night before we left).

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