As y’all probably know, I visited my home away from home – the Bay Area – recently for about three weeks. I gave a pictorial account of what I ate while I was there (SFG kindly cooked for me quite a bit!), but reserved some photos for their own posts… taken with my small point & shoot instead of my phone. Here we go!
Dating someone who works super late means finding places that stay open late… or claim to, anyway. Luckily, the Mission is filled with such places, and one of my first nights in SF, we headed to nearby Beretta. I didn’t photograph our cocktails, which were lovely – and strong – but our three small plates were much enjoyed. The meatballs were tender and tasty, while the bruschette – my least favorite of the three, but no slouch by any means – topped with broccoli rabe and crescenza bordered on slightly too bitter for me. The arancini was the winner of the night; crisp on the outside, filled with Dungeness crab on the inside, with a lovely calabrese aioli for dipping… really quite tasty.
The negatives I must point out are the staff being a bit… cold. I wouldn’t say service was bad, but they were definitely not eager to please, so to speak. The other negative, something a bit more egregious given the very reason we were there, was that despite claiming to be open until 2am, we were told last call for food shortly after we ordered – let’s say 1ish – and then they turned up the house lights at 1:15a. I’m not one to close down a bar – since at least 10 years ago, anyway – but as I said, I needed a place that stayed open late and this place supposedly fit the bill. We were finishing our food around that time, but what if we’d arrived at 1, expecting the place to be open until 2? What if we wanted another round of drinks, and wanted to linger over that last round? Wasn’t going to happen, as they literally turned all the lights on at 1:15. I’ve worked FOH in a few places and I know the feeling of just wanting to go home, but needing to wait until the last customers left… but we weren’t even the last ones there! There were a bunch of people at the bar still, and a couple of tables scattered around that still weren’t done eating/drinking. I can’t imagine how rushed they felt when the lights came up and we were basically ignored except to pick up our bill.
However, given the location and its proximity to where I stayed, I could see returning out of convenience and for the very good drinks. The prices were what you’d expect for a place in the Mission on Valencia – that is, not inexpensive, and in line with NYC prices for trendy places filled with hipsters.
Yeah, I said that.
The very next morning, SFG and I headed to nearby Tartine Bakery for breakfast before he headed to work and I headed to a food blogger conference. He couldn’t say no to the giant cup of bread pudding, which I opted not to try (some long time readers may recall my incredibly odd relationship with bread pudding; I made it at home without ever having had any, so I thought my version was how it’s supposed to be, and I get eeked out at blended versions… and I still don’t eat it!). I believe he liked it, though it proved impossible to finish with only one stomach… look at that ooey gooey monstrosity!
For me, everything looked so good! but I found myself drawn to the lemon poppy seed pound cake. Since Isabella’s, I’ve been sort of obsessed – getting this combination wherever I see it – but failing to find anything that comes close… until now. This blew Isabella’s out of the water – the cake itself was super moist, and not quite so dense, while the crust – the edge – was impossibly crisp and the perfect textural counterpart to the rest of the cake, which didn’t fall apart with just a glance. No, it held up, while bursting forth with its lemony flavor, accented slightly by poppy seeds. I happily ate all of this, and declared it easily my favorite lemon poppy seed pound cake to date. (Granted, it isn’t that many lemon poppy seed cakes that I’ve tried, but was hands down, far and away, amazingly better than any I’ve had thusfar. BY A LOT.)
Since I can’t have just sugar for breakfast – no, that’s not who I am – we also split a croque monsieur. We had a choice of ham, veggie, or… I forget what the last one was, turkey?… something that both of us agreed on ham, which some of you might realize is an odd choice for me. Regardless, this was just perfect; heated to order, the tomato was bursting with roasted sweetness, the cheese, gooey and creamy from being heated, and the ham offering the perfect salty background for everything. And the bread? At a bakery of such fame, yes, it was good – crisp, and providing just the right vehicle for transporting all of those items into my mouth. There may or may not have been play fighting over the last bite.
I let him him, though, as I’d greedily chosen a few cookies to take with me as he departed for work. The top one was an almond one that crumbled immediately; tasted good but I wasn’t a fan of the texture. Unfortunately I can’t remember the other two cookies – almonds, I believe, as I was really into almonds at the time (and consoling myself for rejecting the frangipane croissant)… chocolate… maybe a bourbon cookie… it’s sad that I can’t recall because those were really freaking good and I inhaled them so fast. Not too sweet, slightly chewy, just perfect for my tastes. And not that big! I like cookies bigger than my face sometimes, but mostly I prefer smaller cookies. Heaven.
—>We’ll call this the sandwich post; so that I’m not posting every day about San Francisco for three weeks, I’m consolidating places, and it seems fitting to include a restaurant I went to just a few days before I departed, so this post is the first few places I went and the last one… sandwiching my trip nicely between!<—
Early in my trip, I’d spent some time with my friend, Frances, who told me that she felt Hong Kong Lounge 2 was one of the best – if not THE best – dim sum she’d had in San Francisco proper. (Aside from my short stint in Napa/Sonoma, I stayed entirely in SF proper this trip… which was a departure from every single other time I’ve been to the Bay Area.) So the Sunday before I left, SFG and I met up with my friend Jeters and her husband for dim sum – because dim sum is always better with more people.
The first dish we received were pork buns. Initially, I’d declined, saying that we only needed one dish because I don’t normally eat this – and I don’t – but Jeters’ husband said he would eat them al and ordered two. Imagine my surprise when the baked buns came and looked like this; I’m used to the ones with a glazed/sweet, slightly sticky top, which I don’t really like. I had to try one of these, and found they were super soft, with very flavorful, slightly fatty char siu (roast pork) inside. I found myself really enjoying this! but thankfully Bill made no comment when I ate one. Hahaha. The topping was slightly crumbly, and reminiscent of the topping on “pineapple bun” (there’s no pineapple in the buns, they are just called that because the pattern on top resembles a pineapple).
I should mention here that we were handed paper menus from which to order; as someone who can’t read or write Chinese, and has a very, very basic grasp of speaking Cantonese, it was really difficult to know what some things were. I mean, almost everything at dim sum is a dumpling of some sort! In any case, I forget what the written description of the above read, but I thought it was something like a dish I’ve seen on my friend Hungry’s site, which was plain rice noodle rolls topped with pork spare ribs. This was stir fried rice noodle rolls, with soy sauce, some peppers and I believe roast pork… and it was effing delicious. I think we all agreed this was the winning dish of the day. I was really happy I’d taken a chance and ordered it… so good. Slightly charred – almost roasted along some edges, with a lot of flavor from the sauce that had been absorbed into the noodles, and the chewiness complementing all the other bits in the dish… just perfect.
Phoenix claws, or chicken feet – one of my dim sum staples that I have to stop ordering. The quality of this has gone down so drastically just about everywhere I’ve been lately… they skimp you on the feet, and I mean come on, it’s feet! they shouldn’t be so expensive! stop buying all of them, CHINA!!! Ahem anyway, the flavor was slightly muted and I didn’t find them quite as tasty as I am accustomed to.
Crystal shrimp dumplings, or ha gow, and pork/shrimp dumplings, or siu mai, fairly standard… enough that I made no notice of them being good or bad either way. These are not my dim sum staples, though they always find their way onto the table because they’re everyone else’s, haha.
But this? The first pic? That’s my staple, my must-have at every dim sum place, the dish by which I judge places. Shrimp rice noodle roll, or ha cheung… my absolute favorite. Here, it was … good. Plump shrimp, slick noodle, sweet soy sauce. Not the best I’ve had, but definitely not the worst – whose dubious honor goes to a place in Toronto that inserted slices of ginger in with the shrimp, leaving my (VERY YOUNG) self spitting my food onto my place in disgust – and a stern reprimand from my grandfather. The bottom picture, roast pork rice noodle roll, or char siu cheung, was slightly more interesting – as it had greens in it, with chopped char siu, giving it a textural contrast… but I always prefer my shrimp noodle roll. (Odd because I don’t even eat shrimp with any regularity anymore… I actively dislike shrimp most of the time, a by-product of working in a shrimp & crab bar for 4 summers, where that was generally ‘staff meal’.)
As I mentioned earlier, I can’t read Chinese, so when I marked off on the paper “chive dumplings” I fully expected the 2nd photo to arrive. Ummm, the first one arrived… and while they were indeed filled with chives, they were also boiled and fairly bland until dipped in the accompanying sauce, which only livened them up a little – the waterlogged, gummy wrappers were beyond help. However, after gesturing to another table that received the chive dumplings that we DID want, we received our order (but kept and ate the other dumplings). These were okay… not crisp enough on the outside, and while the inside was definitely chive dumplings, it lacked something to put it in my top favorites. I tend to like the ones that have been fried really well on one side, with a nice crusty, crunchy brown top… it adds a lot to the wrapper. These wrappers were also on the thick side, another negative.
This! we saw these parading by to other tables, and I believe Jeters or her husband had read about it being offered and being good, so we quickly added it to our order. While we did say Peking duck, sadly, this was not Peking duck. It was roast duck – and very good, don’t get me wrong – served Peking-style, ie, with the mantou (plain white bread), hoisin sauce, and cucumbers/scallions. However, to anticipate Peking duck and get roast duck is rather disappointing; this lacked the distinct extreme-crispness of Peking duck skin, and still had a lot of the fat remaining. (Peking duck is traditionally made by forcing air into a duck, make the skin separate from the meat, which allows nearly all of the fat to render while it’s cooked, leaving a super crispy skin, very juicy meat, and hardly any visible fat left connected to the skin.) I don’t particularly care for mantou, so that was immediately a meh for me. The duck itself was flavorful – I love duck! – and fairly fatty… I guess whether I’d order it again would come down to if they are charging Peking duck prices. Definitely tasty, but not worth it if they are charging Peking duck prices. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you; it’s not listed on the dim sum menu and our server just scribbled it onto the piece of paper, and Jeters & her husband picked up the bill as a “welcome to SF” thing. I have the nicest friends.)
Overall, all three places are worth a visit. It only took two buses to get to HK Lounge 2 from the Mission, haha. I would return to all three places – Beretta for its tasty bites and great cocktails; Tartine Bakery for its amazing pastries and delicious croques, omg! I would love some right now… and that lemon poppy seed pound cake was FANTASTIC… and HK Lounge for solidly tasty dim sum. It wasn’t that busy at 10:30am on a Sunday, either, though by the time we left, there was a line out the door (I’m under the impression that this location is slightly smaller than the original, which is a mile or two away).