Bay Area Year One: SF Niblets Scrapbook


Every year, I renew a resolution to “take pictures of people, not just food.” Every year I fall short. This year I will try again. It really isn’t that I value the food over my friends and family. I truly attach memories to these moments that are quite special to me.

I recently shared a post with our favorite feasts from our first year in the East Bay–for most part these were attached to special moments and celebrations. Of course, we also had some great eats on the other side of the bridge in San Francisco as well. Rather than full out reviews for these though, I thought that (for the most part) I’d share these as a scrapbook of the wonderful, personal moments that occurred across restaurant tables in SF during this first year. (Honoring these moments with family and friends also seems like a good way to celebrate Valentine’s week!)

Perhaps it will inspire you to create some more food memories of your own, since what makes a meal truly special is always the people we share the meals with. Would love to hear some of your favorite recent food memories as well, or your favorite places for celebrations and special moments.


Spruce



Alright, so this is the exception. I will do a slightly longer write up of Spruce here since this was not only a great memory, but a truly spectacular meal. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law invited Greg and I to celebrate their first anniversary with them over dinner, for which we were truly honored. On our end this was a celebration of another sort as well, since it was over their wedding weekend the year before that we really started to think seriously about moving to the Bay.

The vibe is upscale, while modern and lively, which made it a great place for a celebration. I also loved that they're very willing to cater to the experience you're looking for–if you want to go for a celebratory feast–as we did–they'll pace and course out your dishes and make you feel wined and dined. However, if you're just looking to have an amazing burger and a beer, they're happy to help you out there as well.

The menu is elevated farm-to-table, so selections will change seasonally, but dishes managed to strike that beautiful balance between comfort food and posh restaurant fare. A housemade spaghetti with Spanish chorizo, Manila clams, and sweet corn especially showed this balance for me. (Pictured above.) On the other hand, a Japanese Kanpachi Crudo with white soy vinaigrette, puffed grains, and heirloom cucumbers showed a more subtle beauty, with a hint of a sense of humor and nostalgia from the puffed grains.

I’m a big fan of steak tartare and theirs was spectacular. I highly recommend getting the gougères (cheese puffs) off the bar menu to go accompany it. Which brings up the valuable point that you can order all bar items in the dining room as well. Similarly, if you don't want to go in for the full restaurant experience, the bar is also a great option.


For the beverage geeks, the bar program here is spectacular offering both creative and classic cocktails, an extensive selection of spirits, a solid but more limited beer list, and a very impressive wine list that spans the globe and delves deep into vertical selections.





Now to proceed with the scrapbook of nibbles.

Outerlands


This was one of the first spots I headed out to after moving here to catch up with one of my best gal pals from culinary school, who’d preceded me back to CA by a couple of years. It was a cold, damp night and we both left our hubbies at home, in her case, with the kiddies.


The ambiance of the place was extremely warm and inviting with a bit of a rustic vibe–really the perfect thing for such an evening. We had a mix of delicious things including some wonderful fried oysters (top), a beautiful dish of manila clams , and a hearty bavette steak with barley porridge. It was all good, but the thing that sticks with me more than anything else was the kick ass bread–so comforting and soul soothing.


Alta CA



In moving to the Bay I was very lucky that not only do we have family here, many friends from both LA and NY had moved here before us in intervening years. This includes about 90% of our friends from Greg’s time in business school at UCLA Anderson. This crew became just as much my friends as his. When we arrived, my girlfriends from that time period had already formed a little clutch and invited me in with open arms. Sipping a cocktails with a few of them over lunch one day at Alta CA and chatting as if no time had gone by was one of those moments that really made this start to feel like home. 

I love a good deviled egg, but at this point there are so many out there it’s hard for them to make an impact–the version here topped with everything spice stands out in my mind. An upscale take on bialys with smears of chicken liver mousse, beet tartare and dill cream cheese also struck a cord. It seems from these two that I was probably still looking for a little hint of NYC.


Tartine Bakery


There is so much beauty in simplicity. One perfect ham and cheese sandwich with crispy buttery bread enjoyed at Tartine Bakery has held steadfast in my imagination far more than many more elaborate dishes I had last year.

My soul-sister, Antonella, was visiting me for about a week and I took her to explore the Mission. We were not really hungry in the least, but wanted a coffee break and Tartine’s infamously long line was relatively moderate–clearly a snack was in order. The snack turned into second lunch, but I cannot regret the indulgence. That ham and cheese sandwich was possibly the best I’ve ever had!

We also ordered their version of a croque monsieur which was  also delicious, although a little different from the norm. It’s served open-faced (well, tartine-style), topped with béchamel, and then go beyond the traditional Gruyère and ham to include a selection of other toppings. Call it what you will, they’re super tasty.


Duc Loi Supermarket


3 Friends + 3 Giant Banh Mi=A Very Happy Afternoon Picnic.

The funny thing is that this excursion came about because my friend’s boyfriend was very concerned that I wrote that I had not yet found my go-to banh mi spot in the Bay Area. He made sure that my bud conveyed the info and she soon took me to me to experience these excellent, traditional banh mi in the Mission. They’re hidden inside this unassuming supermarket with a lunch counter in the back, so I definitely would not have found it without them. They are also huge and very wallet friendly. All good things.

PPQ Dungeness Island


We all need those places we can go with a group for a big rowdy, delicious feast–PPQ was that place for us last year. We ended up having two such feasts there with totally different, but equally jovial groups. It’s chill, it’s delicious, it’s just a little bit messy–the need for a ridiculous bib is an added bonus!

It can be hard to orient yourself on the extensive menu–the special set menus for 2,4,6, and 10 people are a great place to start. Of course the various crab options are good, but the Peppercorn Prawns are actually our favorite. You will also be doing yourself a huge injustice if you leave without trying the House Garlic Noodles.


Go with a group so that you can try as much as possible, but this place gets crowded, so make a reservation.

Hong Kong Lounge II


Just as you need a spot for a rowdy dinner, you also need a good spot for an indulgent dim sum brunch.  I’ve had a couple of such dim sum feasts with friends here and it has not disappointed.

 

Service can be  . . . spotty, but that has pretty much been the case at any dim sum spot I’ve ever been to, so it’s to be expected. The food was great though. The baked pork buns are particularly delicious here thanks to a slightly crispy crust on the lightly sweet bun. Other favorites include the awesome shrimp and pork siu mai, the beef noodle, the fish balls and the green beans .


Plan on a wait on the weekends, although reservations are available.

Yank Sing


More dim sum! Because you can’t have too many choices. Perhaps you’d like a more centrally located dim sum option. Yank Sing is located right in the Financial District in Rincon Center, near the Ferry Building, making it an option even on a weekday.

My girls and I took advantage of exactly this fact and took a long lunch there one weekday afternoon. It’s a HUGE, bustling place, but it still manages to feel a touch more upscale than a lot of other dim sum joints.

As much as I love dim sum, all that sodium often leaves me feeling a little puffy. TMI perhaps, but I did not have that feeling here. Everything was also noticeably quite fresh, and those factors make up for the slightly higher price tag you might pay here over other spots.


Hog Island at the Ferry Building


Hog Island Oyster Farm in Tomales Bay is one of my absolute favorite day trips in the Bay. However, sometimes you need an oyster fix that is a little closer to home. Luckily, they also have an outpost in the Ferry Building.

I had a lovely late afternoon here in the fall with a couple of girlfriends. It’s such a beautiful place to sip a glass of chilled white wine, sit outside, and take in the view. Oysters are a must, of course, but note that their grilled cheese is a surprise hit as well.

El Techo


Sometimes the world starts to look a little crappy. Sometimes one wonders if it’s starting to go to hell in a handbasket. I was definitely starting to feel that way in November of 2016  . . . and quite often since, if I’m being honest. At times like these, you need your friends, a drink or three, and whole lot of carbs.

An intense session of eating my feelings (hello Buñuelos!)  and talking things through with girlfriends at this rooftop spot with cocktails in hand went a long way to help soothe my anxiety . . . for a few minutes at least. The Benedictos with two poached eggs, jalapeno cornbread, chorizo, spinach, and chile hollandaise was comfort food all the way.


Eat Mau



Then there are times when you get to celebrate life–literal new ones. A very pregnant bud came to town, so our group congregated at Eat Mau to celebrate her and feast on indulgent, yet fairly healthy Vietnamese food. Keep those garlic noodles coming!

Pier 23


It’s wonderful when you meet new friends and feel like you have a great connection right away. It’s even better when that new bud shares your love of wine and knows where to get great fish and chips with a view of the water.


Burma Superstar

My dad likes Asian cuisines, my mom is a borderline pescatarian/vegetarian–Burma Superstar seemed like a great choice for a big family meal during their visit. Specifically, the Tea Leaf Salad with its complex layers holds a special spot in my memory as a bonding point.

(Burma Superstar has since been fighting lawsuits from former employees for allegedly mishandling wages. This hadn’t come out at the time, however, so I’ll hold onto the happy memory of the meal at the time.)


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