After the freezing cold temp’s of New York and parting ways with our beloved NYC family we were off to the west coast. We left on one of the last days planes were getting out of the blizzard – like weather. Thankfully we only had delays of a few hours, no flight cancellations.
The delayed flights led us to miss our dinner reservation, so through some frantic phone calls upon landing I was able to re-arrange all our dinner reservations for the next few days and everything managed to fall back into place.
San Francisco was our ‘splurge’ hotel location, Alex and I were drawn to the old world architecture and décor in the ‘Sir Francis Drake’ not to mention the central location, with Union square just around the corner. Included in the hotel price were two breakfast vouchers at the restaurant adjacent to the SFD, ‘Scala’s Bistro’.
Sir Francis Drake Hotel Room
The view from the top floor of the SFD, ‘The Starlight Room’ looking over Union Square
The first morning we used the first of our two vouchers at Scala’s bistro – I had the ‘Chilaquiles’ Two poached eggs with fried tortilla’s tomatillo salsa, salsa picante, crème fraiche and ricotta salata. This sounded incredible on the menu but was unfortunately a bit of a let down. I don’t really know what I was expecting but tortilla chips first thing in the morning wasn’t exactly the greatest idea. Alex had the Brioche French toast with sautéed warren pears and Chantilly cream. Our second breakfast at Scala’s (also our last meal in San Francisco) I had the ‘Egg white omelette – Pomodoro’. Another attempt to nourish the body and eat a little healthier. Never mind the fact I had a bacon topped Doughnut day’s earlier!
Watching Anthony Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations’ in San Francisco we were introduced to the kooky tiki bar/restaurant ‘Tonga Room’ in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel. After a ridiculous trek from our hotel, a mere 8-10 minute walk. We seriously underestimated those deceiving hills. We arrived, a little sweaty….to the Tonga Room, a Polynesian theme restaurant and bar that has an artificial lagoon (the hotels former swimming pool) rainstorms with lightning and thunderstorms and a lava rock, all in the underground restaurant. A band played 80’s old school show tunes on the night we were there, on a boat in the middle of the lagoon. The food is skewed towards typical Polynesian numbers. Between us we shared ‘Cha Siu Bao’ – BBQ Pork Buns and ‘Stone Valley Ranch Kalua Pork’ – Smoked & Slow cooked pork shoulder, braised cabbage, shoyu wasabi scented jasmine rice & pickled daikon. Having watched Anthony Bourdain’s show a good few months before we left, I had completely forgotten everything about the place barring the fact he went there and had an absurdly large sized girly drink called ‘The Lava Bowl’. It never dawned on me that he ate nothing. The food wasn’t terrible, just nothing to write home about (Yet I’m writing about it here) because I would still recommend it to people going to San Francisco on the sheer kitsch factor alone.
Walking around our second day I needed sustenance, who am I kidding. I needed doughnuts. We came across ‘Dynamo Donuts’ on the Marina, a stand/café selling a selection of doughnuts and coffee. (Side-note is it Doughnut or Donut?) Coffee was atrocious but that was the standard in the USA. The doughnut however, a Maple Glazed Bacon Apple was delicious. To anyone that hasn’t had the sweet/savoury combo of bacon in a ‘desert’ setting, I say jump on that.
‘Straw’ in Hayes Valley (about a 10 minute cab ride from our hotel) was one of the restaurants I had planned to go to rain, hail or shine when we were in San Francisco. Straws food is described as ‘carnival-inspired’ comfort food. The restaurant itself is rather small, with only 10-12 tables. To say I was excited was a bit of an understatement, from everything that I had read and perusing the menu over and over I knew we were all in for a great meal. Between four of us we shared as a starter the sinfully scrumptious ‘Mac Attack’ – Macaroni with cheddar, béchamel, apple and maple glazed bacon. This combination might sound a bit odd but it really did work. The crispy bacon throughout the ooey/goeey pasta gave a great crunch and paired well with the apple shards adorning the cheese. To share along with our meals we got a serving of ‘Sweet tots’ your regular tater tots with a blackberry BBQ sauce, if I could have drunk that sauce and not looked like a weirdo..I may have. For my Entrée (or main meal, always puzzled me) I had the ‘Beared Lady’ A delectable sub with pulled pork, blackberry coulis, chipotle BBQ and cider slaw. Hands down this was one of the best meals of my 7 week USA trip. The sub was also served with house-made potato chips, which I found a bit odd. Nothing wrong with the actual chips, I just found regular potato chips a bit jarring with the hot pork sandwich, Potato fries’ (which you can sub in, would make a much better pairing). I shared this with Alex as we then shared his main of ‘Limerock’- Grilled Chicken skewers with red peppers, onions, fresh herbs, citrus and coconut rice. The pork without doubt overshadowed the chicken, so much so I barely remember eating it. I do remember it being a little on the tough side. To finish our meal and seeing as this was a holiday, we shared the ‘Flying Saucer’ – Peanut Butter mousse, house-made chocolate fudge, candied bacon and caramel. I don’t, ordinarily order desert when I eat out but I’m glad I was convinced into this one. Every element worked in perfect harmony to create a monster of a dish. I later found out that this desert won the San Francisco Bay Guardian 2001- ‘’Best of the day/Best Pork desert’. A very deserved award at that.
The Beared Lady (Greatest meal of the whole trip!)
During our wanderings along Fisherman’s Wharf, I saw the red distinctive ‘Boudin Bakery’ logo, Alex may have lost me for a minute or two there as I wandered off. Some people may say that getting locked in an empty department store overnight would be their ultimate dream. Hands down for me, it would be being locked in a fully stocked bakery/ Doughnut emporium YES, emporium. We decided to get a little snack to tide us over while we explored. The surly gentleman behind the counter handed me my warm baguette which I took to the wharf to nibble on while the resident crazy’s yelled at us. This was no ordinary baguette however, rather a Moreish sourdough loaf generously filled with dark chocolate and raisins. We left half of the loaf for our breakfast before Alcatraz the following morning.
We also paid our first visit to the chocolatiers ‘Ghirardelli’, I then proceeded to force a stop into every single Ghirardelli store from then on during our trip. As well as selling a myriad of chocolates’, they have a café that churn out waffles, sundaes and hot beverages. I bought a little to go square of chocolate but didn’t feel like a choc-attack that particular afternoon.
‘Original Joe’s’ is one of those traditional old school San Francisco dining experiences, opened in 1937 and running for over 75 years. Located in North Beach, which historically was home to a large Italian American population, Original Joe’s serves classic Italian/American comfort food. Despite indulging during our meal’s, in food we ordinarily wouldn’t eat, we never really overdid it. Alex and I, yet again shared a pasta special – ‘Gnocchi’ with marinara sauce, chilli and olives, delicious but not as good as Nonna’s. Which is generally why I never a) eat out at an Italian restaurant and b) order pasta. Last but certainly not least, we shared the famous ‘Cheeseburger sandwich – with fries’. We asked for the ‘sandwich’ to be cut it in half before being brought out to the table. What arrived was no less than a joke. A huge monstrous ordeal that took more than half of the oval plate (platter). We were both so confused by the sheer size I had to double check they hadn’t made a mistake and given us two normal sized orders. Apparently not. The cheeseburger was juicy, which contrasted nicely with the crusty Italian style bread. The only drawback was the rare, bordering on alive beef patty. It was a little too underdone for my taste and I usually go for medium rare steak. The patty let out a fair amount of blood which then stained the bread and turned it into a bit of a bloody mess.
San Francisco is typically known for its progressive and innovative food and we weren’t disappointed. With farmers markets, kitsch(y) cafés and restaurants, Chinese food down one street and typical American dude food down another.
We can’t wait to go back…..
Photos by Alex