After 15 amazing, action-packed days in New York, I had five days in San Francisco to decompress and relax prior to heading home. I parted ways with best-friend-K at LAX, and flew up to SFO to stay with my dear dear friend, the very gorgeous Em.
I've stayed with Em in San Francisco three times over the last five years, and with each visit I fall more and more in love with the Bay Area. San Francisco is my kind of town! I'm afraid to say though that I was having such a great time just chilling out with Em that my long list of foodie recommendations went largely unnoticed... but here are a few highlights from my stay.
On my first night in town, Em and friends took me to Nihon Whisky Lounge down on Folsom Street. As well as being a whisky lounge of some renown (the largest single malt collection on the west coast, apparently), NWL doubles as an izakaya. Apparently the must-have here is the tempura shiitake mushrooms stuffed with hamachi - if we'd ordered food I'd've been in like Flynn on that dish.
Instead, we just drank a whole lotta whiskies.
One place I'd been to in the past that I was really keen to head back to was Nick's Crispy Tacos, which is only a block from Em's apartment on Russian Hill. Although they're not as strictly traditional as the tacos you can get down in the Mission District, Nick's Baja-style fish tacos are just sensational.
Nick's Crispy Tacos shares the same space as Rouge nightclub, which can make for a slightly surreal Mexican dining experience!
Far, far less glamorous in terms of decor but more authentic in terms of cuisine is Pancho Villa, a taqueria in the heart of the Mission. We headed down to the Mission one sunny afternoon with Em's friend D and wandered around, getting a decent coffee and listening to live music at The Revolution Cafe then checking out a couple of bookstores before going to Pancho Villa for a burrito.
Pancho Villa burritos are cheap and delicious, but extremely unphotogenic. So here are some shots of Em and D and Pacifico beer instead.
Love how colourful the Mission is! More photos of Mission murals (from my last trip to SF) can be seen here.
After Em had read me twittering lyrical a few months ago about the salted caramel at Cutler & Co, she had promised to take me to Bi Rite Creamery when I came to San Francisco, so that I could try their amazing salted caramel ice cream. After Pancho Villa the three of us walked a circuitous route to Bi Rite Creamery, trying to walk off enough of the burrito so that we'd have room for ice cream. Such is the popularity of the ice cream here that there was at least a ten minute queue out the door.
Of course I was determined to try the salted caramel, but it took me ages to choose my other flavour. I mean: roasted banana... balsamic strawberry... crème fraîche... pineapple raspberry sorbet... chocolate coconut... brown sugar with ginger caramel swirl... they all sounded amazing. In the end I chose the most unusual-sounding of the lot, honey lavender. Definitely unlike any ice cream I'd had before, though in retrospect I probably should have chosen a different one. But oh how I loved the salted caramel!
I also really love San Francisco's Chinatown. Did you know it's the biggest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest in North America? It's just down the hill from Em's place, so we walked through it on the 4th of July after exploring some sunny pockets of North Beach.
We were about to walk back up to Russian Hill when Em suddenly grabbed by arm: "Oh my god, you HAVE to try the daan tat at Golden Gate Bakery. They're the best!". Em was quite clearly not the only one who thought so, as there was a HUGE queue (probably somewhat exacerbated by people buying up big batches to take to Independence Day barbeques, but still) with a velvet rope keeping part of the sidewalk clear for pedestrians as the queue snaked down the street and then double-backed upon itself. I took the photo below as we were standing in line: everyone else you can see in the photo was also in the queue!
It ended up being a 30 minute wait but OMFG SO WORTH IT. Hands down the best egg custard tarts I have ever consumed. The buttery pastry was wondrously flaky and the filling was so fresh and warm and silky, it felt practically illicit. Because the turnover for egg custard tarts at GGB is so high, they're always fresh straight out of the oven. LOVE!
Later that night Em and I went to see the 1939 camp-bitchy classic The Women at the Castro Theatre. We had a fabulous time: the lively, mostly gay audience laughed at and applauded every especially catty one-liner, and hissed every time Joan Crawford (playing The Other Woman) was onscreen. :)
It was like being at my beloved Astor, only on a slightly grander scale. Oh, and there was a real live organist playing old tunes before the movie on a Wurlitzer organ, which was slowly lowered underground as the movie was about to begin. He got a big round of applause!
It was only on my last day in San Francisco that I went down to the Ferry Building. Unfortunately I didn't have time to visit it on a day the Farmers Market is held, but I still had a lovely time checking out the permanent shops. It's a foodie paradise, but it ain't cheap.
Stunning organic heirloom tomatoes.
An amazing range of mushrooms at Far West Fungi. I'd never even heard of some of the varieties! I really wish I hadn't been booked on a flight home that evening - would have loved to buy some to cook up with Em.
I especially liked the look of the maitake mushrooms. A few doors down, at the Boccalone Salumeria, they were selling little cones of mixed salumi (or, as the sign above the door said, "tasty salted pig parts") for a few dollars. Great idea!
Oh, and I almost died when I walked into Culinaire, an antique shop specialising in food and wine-related antiques from nineteenth century France, England and America. Gorgeous.
For lunch, I treated myself to a meal at Slanted Door, Charles Phan's modern Vietnamese restaurant that came highly recommended. Loved the view out over the water and the Bay Bridge.
The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building #3, San Francisco (map)
415 861 8032
My waiter was extremely helpful, suggesting I try a few half dishes so that I could sample a range of dishes from the menu. I started with a half serve of exquisite Kona kampachi with English cucumber, mint and Thai chillies ($15 regular serve, $7.50 half serve).
This was followed by a half serve of the Slanted Door rolls with shrimp, pork, mint and peanut sauce ($9 regular serve, $4.50 half serve). I must confess to not being much of a fan of rice paper rolls, but this one was a cut above the usual, with proper fresh prawn.
For my main course I ordered the caramelised catfish with coriander, ginger and Thai chillies ($15). Looove catfish! It was quite spicy and nicely sticky. I accompanied it with a half serve of vegetables - given I'd been ogling the maitake mushrooms only half an hour ago, I couldn't go past them combined with Chue Farm sugar snap peas ($10 regular serve, $5 half serve). They had a rich, woodsy flavour which went beautifully with the sweetness of the snap peas.
After lunch I bought Em a Mad Men DVD then jumped on a cable car to head back up to her place, so that I could get my suitcase and get a cab to the airport.
San Francisco, I miss you!