The Best San Francisco Restaurants and More: The Podcast

Wayfare Tavern’s Fried Chicken (photo property of VirgoBlue)

I recently had a great discussion with Seth Resler of Mystery Meet, where food lovers in the Bay Area can get together at a restaurant in San Francisco (that isn’t revealed until 24 hours before) and discuss their love of all things culinary.

Here’s my podcast interview with Seth of Mystery Meet discussing all my favorite eats in San Francisco. I basically leave no stone unturned, talking about my favorite purveyors like Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, Wayfare Tavern, Frog Hollow Farm, Curry Up Now, 4505 Meats, my thoughts on the SF vs. NY food debate, my pick for the best date/anniversary restaurant in town (it’s not what you think), my love of Thomas Keller, why the food truck trend has exploded, and even manage a BlogHer Annual Conference plug. Obviously, I’m in marketing. ;)

It’s all here: http://mysterymeet.org/find-dining-podcast/podcast-episode-8-wayfare-tavern-in-san-francisco/

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C7IfmpaD-o&feature=youtu.be&a

Wayfare Tavern on Urbanspoon
Sociale on Urbanspoon
Wise Sons Deli on Urbanspoon

Hubert Keller’s Classic Flagship

Hubert Keller has gotten a lot of press lately with his top three finish on Top Chef Masters last year and the new Burger Bar in Union Square.  But it was Fleur de Lys that put him on the map before all else.

This restaurant is one of those places that’s quintessential San Francisco: classic, sophisticated, and intimate.  It’s known for its service and it definitely didn’t disappoint in that area.

The staff is obviously trained well since all the courses were placed perfectly, timed perfectly, and explained to you perfectly, all while being friendly and unintimidating.  That’s no small feat in this town.  I wish the food were as impeccable as the service, though.

I can’t exactly put my finger on it.  Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by all the different newer restaurants around town.  But nothing I had really “sang” to me.

We both had the 4-course menu, starting with the Foie Gras Pate w/Aspic, and the Dungeness Crab Salad with Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese.  These two dishes were the highlight of the entire meal.  The crab was fresh, sweet and meaty.  And the goat cheese was perfectly creamy and not gamey at all.  But the beets were boring.  And my Hubby is a freak for pate, so he loved his dish.

Then I had the Maine Scallops with Pinenuts, Potato and Sundried Tomatoes, while he had the Jumbo Prawns with Pork Belly pieces.  My scallops were tender, sweet and cooked perfectly.  But I found the sundried tomatoes way too bold for a delicate dish like this.  And the potato seemed oddly out of place on the plate.  I wanted to love this dish but it just didn’t work for me.

Meanwhile, his prawns and pork belly were all cooked well and melded together nicely, but the dish was almost a bit dry, both in texture and in pairing.  Again, off.

For our entrees, I got the Filet Mignon with Truffled Lobster Mac and Cheese.  The beef was cooked to tender perfection.  But the mac and cheese was slightly disappointing.  The lobster and truffles totally overpowered the dish, leaving it difficult for me to appreciate any cheese flavor.  And the texture was more gummy than creamy.  Another disappointing overall execution.

The hubby had the Buffalo Strip Steak with Lemongrass and Ginger.  It was all prepared nicely, but the strong Asian flavors seemed strangely out of place at a restaurant with French overtones.

I ended the meal with a cheese plate that had some very distinct elements.  There was a swiss from the Netherlands, a blue cheese from Australia, a French “cheddar”, and a local cheese that had the texture of brie.  None of it worked for me, surprisingly.  They were either way too mild or way too strong; nothing in between or memorable.  And I love cheese!  How could they have gone so wrong?  Frankly, some textural contrast like a good piece of toasted bread would’ve been nice.  And the golden raisins on the side were again, boring and unimaginative.

My Husband finished with a Grand Marnier Souffle that was huge.  He enjoyed it, but almost wished he’d ordered the Lemon Cheesecake instead.

All in all the appetizers and the amuse bouche of Cream of Asparagus and Cauliflower and Pumpkin Seed were the highlights of the meal.  Most everything else seemed outdated and boring, yet overly complicated.  I wanted to like this restaurant more, but the combinations on the plate just didn’t work.

But again, the service is perfect and that alone would make it a lovely celebration or date night restaurant.

Fleur de Lys on Urbanspoon

Comfort Food, Elevated

Can a grilled cheese be…subtle?  Can it become “artisan”?  After a visit to The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen in San Francisco, the answer is YES.  And it can be damn tasty too.

Let me clarify and say that this is not a Kraft American Singles on Wonder Bread kinda grilled cheese, although I’d love one of those right about now.  In other words, the grilled cheese has been elevated here to a higher status.  The place is basically a takeout counter, so there’s no pretension here.  Good thing because nothing goes worse with a grilled cheese than pretension.

My foodie pal Anne Marie and I ordered the Red, White and Blue Plate special, which gives you your choice of a nice sized sammie and small bowl of housemade roasted tomato soup with creme fraiche.  Everything here is homemade with primo ingredients, right down to the lemonade and freshly baked sweets and breakfast breads.

We ordered the Mousetrap w/tomatoes, which is their traditional grilled cheese with sharp cheddar, havarti, and monterey jack on artisan sourdough, and the Mushroom Gruyere with fontina, gruyere, roasted wild mushrooms, sauteed onions, leeks and thyme butter on fresh country-style wheat.

The Mushroom Gruyere was my favorite.  Despite having a lot of ingredients including leeks, mushrooms, potatoes, caramelized onions, and gruyere and fontina cheeses, the sandwich was the perfect texture and had amazing subtlety in its flavors.  Everything just worked and was incredibly flavorful.  And the country-style bread had the perfect crunch and texture.  It was hearty but didn’t compete with all the flavors going on.  I was amazed that it didn’t leave me feeling heavy or like I’d just eaten a pound of grease.

The Mousetrap was mighty tasty as well, though it was almost too much cheese.  So much so that they all started to blend together and I begged for a different element to break up the cheesy party.  The tomatoes, unfortunately, didn’t help and got a little lost, flavor-wise.  I would, however, recommend it if you are a traditionalist and love your grilled cheese on sourdough.  There’s definitely something to be said for that.

The soup was perfectly tangy and smoky, and ideal for dipping the sammies in.  Throw in the big giant crunchy house-made croutons, and it could’ve been a meal in itself.

I think this place does a great job of showing how you can elevate something so seemingly one-dimensional, to new heights. The staff are helpful, friendly and work quickly to get the line moving during peak times.

This is not your mother’s grilled cheese, for sure, but it’s also not Sunday brunch, either.  Regardless, you’ll definitely leave happy.

The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen on Urbanspoon

I’ve had BBQ from a truck…and it is good.

“People want good food for less than 10 bucks.”

And with that, brothers Brett (a classically trained chef) and Nate (“front of the house”) Neibergall closed up their San Francisco restaurant, Frisee, and set up culinary shop in a food truck.  It’s less glamorous, yes, but the food is damn tasty and reaching much more of the masses.

These Texas born, Carolinas-raised boys know their BBQ.  But getting Southern Sandwich Co. up and running, as all food truck vendors know, has been a challenge.  The permits, repairs, and inspections to get their business going in San Francisco has been never-ending.  Which is why they decided to drive down to Redwood City to give their business a test run.

Their BBQ is distinctive in that the preparation and ingredients are gourmet, indeed.  The quality is evident and the flavors are very specific to their background.

The Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich is tangy, vinegary and distinctively spiced.  I LOVE a tangy BBQ much more than a sweet sauce, so I was loving this.  And just like they do in the Carolinas, they threw some coleslaw onto the sandwich.  The added tang, freshness and crunch was perfect for this gourmet BBQ.

The Texas-style Beef Brisket had a lot going for it too.  The meat was tender, juicy, perfectly pink and had a nice smoky blackened crust and melt in your mouth buttery fat.  The meat-lover in me was in heaven.  Smoky caramelized onions rounded out the sandwich perfectly.

Add to that some spicy, peppery macaroni salad and some pork and beans (serious meat is in these beans and they’re fantastic), and you’ve got a sandwich and two sides for 8 bucks.  And trust me, you won’t be left hungry.

I know these guys have their sights set on San Francisco (they’re already at Off the Grid in Fort Mason every Friday), but I REALLY hope they stay true to Redwood City at least once a week.  This is going to become an addiction, I can tell.

And by the way, the pork and beans are Brett’s favorite.  “They’re made with love,” he says, and you can taste it.

Southern Sandwich Co. – @southrnsandwich for daily location updates – www.southernsandwich.com

Sociale Redo

A repeat visit to Sociale is always a welcome opportunity. Getting there is easy, parking is a breeze, and walking down that hidden cobblestone corridor to find this gem of a restaurant at the end of it is nothing short of a pleasure. I sometimes feel sorry for the people who are dining across the street at the well-known Spruce Restaurant because they have no idea what they’re missing!

Their menus change with the seasons and they represent the essence of that time of year so well. The Foodinistas and I (@joanneisafoodie, @lickmyspoon, @istelleinad) shared a variety of appetizers, including their famous Fried Olives stuffed with fontina cheese, Seared Scallops with mango, hearts of palm, and a citrus reduction, and the Watermelon and Burrata Salad. They were all wildly different, wildly fresh, and wonderfully delicious.

I am a huge sucker for burrata, now. It’s like a creamier version of fresh mozzerella, liquid and all. So creamy soft that it’s perfect on a small slice of bread. Just heavenly. And the red and yellow watermelon slices with a touch of chili flakes were such a simple yet ingenious combo.

And the scallops were definitely worth mentioning since they were perfectly cooked, sweet, and tender. Hearts of palm usually reminds me of a cross between fennel and bamboo shoots, and here, they were the perfect textural contrast to the sweet mango slices. This dish was perfectly executed and beautiful as well.

For our entrees we ordered the Pici with Venison Bolognaise, Spinach Tagliatelle with corn and tomatoes, and the Duck Breast with a cherry sauce and potato torte. All of these dishes had wonderful character and flavor combinations.

I LOVED the tagliatelle and have always wanted to order this dish simply because the colors are beautiful! And I’m happy to say the dish itself is just as delightful to eat. I love how fresh the sweet corn and tomatoes were, and the housemade pasta was chewy and delicious. A generous shaving of cheese on top and I was loving every bite.

But it was the duck breast that really surprised me. The accompanying cherry sauce fortunately didn’t overpower the meat, like it can sometimes. It was merely an accent to the perfectly medium rare duck, which was perfectly prepared and seasoned. I would definitely order it on my next visit.

As always, sitting outside at this restaurant is the only way to go, which means you must request a table here beforehand. It’s so charming and adds to the whole experience of eating there. It’s at once romantic, intimate, special, and makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a quaint little elegant European restaurant. Yet the service is exceptionally friendly and comfortable. Eating here is always an experience I relish.

Sociale on Urbanspoon

High-end Meatless Fare

Meat and potatoes: that’s the kind of girl I am.  I am NOT a granola-loving, nuts and twigs eating, prissy little salad ordering princess.  I want my savory rich meaty goodness with a side of cheese or earthy potatoes, though the older I get the more I’m paying for that indulgence.  But I can certainly respect one’s beliefs and causes.

Now, that said, I was still curious about vegan food.  Would I enjoy it just as much as a meat-filled meal?  I’d never had a vegan meal and I was excited about visiting Millennium in San Francisco with a group of co-workers.

This is high-end meatlessness.  We ordered a variety of appetizers to start for the entire table to share, including a Black Bean Torte, Green Beans with an amazing dill aioli, and others.  There were a lot of citrus, beans, and different textures but it was all brightly flavored and expertly prepared.

Then we got to our entrees.  I’d ordered the Portobello Mushroom with Smashed Potatoes.  It was a dish full of color and the mushroom was meaty and substantive.  It was topped with a wonderful balsamic and fresh apricot glaze that and gave it a nice sweet and zesty flavor that surprised me.  It was delightful.  And the accompanying shaved fennel salad and mix of beans, peas, corn and carrots were bright and wonderfully fresh.

We finished the meal with the Green Tea Cheesecake which was made with a variety of nuts (no real cheese of course) and an ice cream that was made from almond milk.  Again, a delightful alternative to the “original”, and again, substantive.

I loved realizing how different ingredients could be used to create alternate versions of some typical non-vegan dishes.  It was fascinating to see how you could use nuts, fruits, and other ingredients to season, accent, and flavor things in different ways.  And surprisingly, I didn’t miss the meat.

Service was a little spotty and the decor could definitely use a more modern touch, especially with the type of food they serve.  I would definitely return if given the chance.  It’s a nice change from your typical meat and potatoes. :)

Millennium on Urbanspoon

Taylor’s New Name

Taylor’s Refresher in St. Helena has been a Wine Country staple for years. It’s THE place to grab a stellar burger and shake, and more recently, their San Francisco location in the Ferry Building, as well.

Recently, they changed their name to “Gott’s Roadside Tray Gourmet.”  Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.  Fortunately, the food hasn’t changed.

I visited the Ferry Building location for some greasy goodness and a side of fries.  For whatever reason, I wasn’t in the mood for a cheeseburger.  These days, I consider the In N Out Double Double the standard, so nothing’s been living up to it.  Why disappoint myself?

I went for the Wisconsin Sourdough Burger, which had BBQ sauce, sauteed mushrooms, Wisconsin cheddar and bacon, all on toasty sourdough.  No way I could pass that up!  I decided to go for broke and add to that an order of Garlic Fries, too.  Mmmmm, Garlic Fries…

And they didn’t disappoint!  They were thin and perfectly crispy.  And I love when they pile on the garlic and herbs.  This was a total winner.

And the burger?  Fortunately, it was no slouch either.  I’m not usually a fan of bacon, but I left it on there.  The combination of all those elements was total overkill but oh so good.  I am a sucker for a burger on sourdough, and add to that mushrooms?  I was in greasy, toasty, heart attack heaven.

My only complaint is that it’s a tad bit pricer than most casual burger joints.  Again, I think I’m spoiled by the value that In N Out delivers.  Other than that, if you’re in the city and are craving a casual burger on a nice warm day/night, you could do a LOT worse.

Gott's Roadside on Urbanspoon

More Ferry Building Fare

Yes, yes, another trip to the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace.  I know many of you may recall my endless affection for this foodie destination, but I can’t help it.  I don’t get to go as often as I like, but when I do, I visit both my faves as well as manage to find new items to swoon over.

So on this trip, I was determined to try a DIFFERENT porchetta sandwich.  One that WASN’T Roli Roti’s (gasp)!  I’ve heard much chatter about the pork sammie at Il Cane Rosso, and that it was just as good (which I find impossible).

First, yes it is VERY good.  The crunchy fresh French bread and the pickled cabbage gave a wonderful flavor and texture contrast to the moist, well-seasoned, obviously fresh and quality pork.  It seemed to have been cooked for hours with a variety of herbs that I don’t even have in my pantry.  Delicious, indeed.  BUT, it’s still second place to Roli Roti’s.

Second, the family and I headed to Miette to give their macaroons a shot.  I’ve tried many macaroons here and there around the Bay Area, and none have impressed me much, especially since I have a ridiculous standard to live up to having had them in Paris.

To my surprise, they weren’t bad at all!  Many may disagree, but for me, it came down to the texture of the cookie, itself.  Yes, I love the flavor infusions of the macaroons I had in Paris, but the chewy center of the two cookies and the crisp outer shell are what always impressed me most.  Miette delivered on this.  And it had that light yet distinct almond flavor.  I agree with many that the fillings are a bit too sweet and lack any delicate essence, but the texture and flavor of the cookie, itself, made it a winner for me.  (By the way, the grapefruit was not a good choice, but I’d go for the pistachio again in a heartbeat.)

And no trip to the Ferry Building would be complete without a trip to Delica.  Their Japanese deli fare is so delicious and prepared so well.  The ingredients are so damn fresh and tasty.  I always get the potato croquette (still the best one I’ve ever had) and this time I got the fried shrimp cake.  Oh…my…gawd.  I’ve always had great affection for all things fried, and these two snacks certainly fit the bill.  Just order them if you ever go.  You won’t be sorry.

So I add more items to my “must haves” list for next time.  This list, by the way, is getting too big.

THE List is Out. Let’s Discuss.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s food editor, Michael Bauer’s much hyped, much anticipated, much revered, much loathed, much debated Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants list is officially out.

We all have our faves and question many of the ones that stay on the list year after year, compared to the ones that are glaringly missing, but instead of going into that endless debate (it really boils down to the fact that everyone has a right to their own opinions), here are the ones that I AGREE with on the list, the ones I DON’T agree with, along with the ones I would LOVE to someday soon.

A RESOUNDING YES!
AD HOC – This place defies explanation. Just go, already.
HOUSE OF PRIME RIB - In the words of Carly Simon, nobody does it better.
PERBACCO - Exceptional service, sleek design, impeccable food.
TOWN HALL - Noisy as all hell, but I’ve never had a bad meal here…ever.

Who Cares?
A16 – Overrated.
CHOW – Very good, but not worthy of this list.
BETELNUT – So what? Asian tapas. Boring.
BAR BAMBINO – This was sooooo uninteresting to me.
FOREIGN CINEMA – Again, uninteresting and getting outdated.
SLANTED DOOR - Ugh, not again! There are so many other Vietnamese joints serving the same food for half the price!
LIMON - The food and service are SO subpar and have no place on this list.
ONE MARKET – Boring.
YANK SING - Seriously, this is the best Chinese the city has to offer? Look a little harder, Bauer.

When Can We Go?
GIALINA
COCO 500
DELFINA
FLOUR + WATER
FRANCES
REDD
SPRUCE
QUINCE

Why, Bauer, Why?
GITANE - What a shame that this restaurant had to get cut from the list at the last minute. This is a beautifully decorated restaurant with a creative and distinctive menu. Others on this list should’ve been sacrificed for this one.

So Foodies, feel free to let me know your thoughts…

Fashion Bargains: Fall 2007

I’ve been talking to a few friends lately and I’ve decided to do one of these “shopping round up” postings a season.  A good chance for me to see what I’m spending my money on and share it with my friends who read this blog :).

So, here are the “greatest hits” of my Fall 2007 shopping adventures.

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WHAT: Black suede embroidered platform peeptoe wedges / DESIGNER: O by Oscar de la Renta / WHERE: Jeremy’s (SF) / ORIGINAL PRICE: estimated at $285 / SALE PRICE: $35

COMMENTS: I feel like I have to find at least one ridiculously cheap designer piece every season at the Jeremy’s clearance sale.  This was it.  When you sign up for their mailing list and they send you the notice for the seasonal clearance, drop everything and go.

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WHAT: Turquoise full skirt, knee length / DESIGNER: Viola / WHERE: Anthropologie / ORIGINAL PRICE: $88 / SALE PRICE: $10

COMMENTS: I love, love, love Anthropologie.  But I never shop the first two-thirds of the store because the stuff is WAY overpriced.  I always head to the very back of every Anthro and search through their rotating selection of sale merchandise.  On this occasion, I really scored when I found the $10 rack.

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WHAT: Black polka dotted peeptoe mini-wedges / DESIGNER: Mossimo / WHERE: Target / PRICE: $25

COMMENTS: These shoes weren’t on sale, but for twenty-five bucks what more of a discount do you need?  I can’t believe how ridiculously comfortable these shoes are.  They go with just about everything, have that whimsical patent red heel, and I’ve seen the same design in department stores for so much more.  Like I needed another reason to go to Target.

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WHAT: Eggshell leather handbag with brass chain / DESIGNER: Marc Jacobs Resort Collection 2007 / WHERE: Saks Fifth Avenue, Las Vegas / ORIGINAL PRICE: $1275 / SALE PRICE: $500

COMMENTS: I know, the bag is five hundred freakin’ dollars, but consider this:

1) I’m a designer handbag whore

2) Real designer handbag bargains of more than 50% off are nearly impossible to score anymore.  This one was 65% off (unheard of for a limited edition designer bag)!

3) I was on vacation

4) It’s a timeless bag (not too trendy or kitchy)

5) Have you looked at it???  It’s gorgeous ;-P.