I have recently made the greatest discovery of my life, gastronomically speaking. On a recent trip to San Francisco I was taken to b. Patisserie. Shouting OMG into the next century would not do this “salon de thé” justice’. Opened in 2013 by co-creators, co-owners and total pastry geniuses, Belinda Leong and Michel Suas, b. Patisserie could very well have pastry chefs from all over the world setting out on pilgrimages to San Francisco. There is a line from the Eagles song, In the Long Run, “all the debutantes in Houston, couldn’t hold a candle to you.”
Sitting in a windowed corner of b.’s, savoring the croissant, the butter, sugar, crisp crusty outer layer melting in my mouth, the tune played in my head with the words changed to “All the pastry chefs in Paris, couldn’t hold a candle to b!”
b. comes from the name of San Francisco native Belinda Leong who began her career in pastry making back in 1999 working in the renowned San Fran restaurant, Gary Danko. After eight years there, learning much from Gary Danko who she cites as one of her major culinary influences, Belinda left for Europe, working in top patisseries and restaurants in Paris, Spain and Copenhagen, refining her skills and adding to her repertoire. After two years she came back to the Bay area as the pastry chef of Manresa the two Michelin starred restaurant in Los Gatos.
One of the nice perks of writing about food is being invited to restaurants and even getting to preview ones that have not yet opened. While busy writing the cookbook I have taken some breaks to see what's going on around town. Here are some highlights:
Hog Island Oyster Co. Bar has long been one of my favorite little hideaways at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza. Tucked away in an awkward spot, it had fantastic views of the Bay Bridge and soul soothing clam chowder, not to mention an always stellar range of oysters on the half shell. The space is certainly not awkward any longer. Now that the oyster bar has taken over the adjacent spot, it’s a spacious and nicely unified expanse with two bars and plenty of outdoor seating. The menu is larger too.
My picks are still the classic clam chowder that has no flour so it’s rich and creamy, not goopy, and the white anchovies. Served with piquillo pepper aioli, chopped eggs and green herb sauce on baguette slices, the anchovies are are bright and juicy, nothing like what you get out of a can. In case you didn't know, Hog Island was founded by two marine biologists who are passionate about the future of sustainable seafood.
San Francisco Ferry Building, #11A, San Francisco
Just For You Cafe in the Dogpatch Neighborhood of San Francisco, sits about two blocks from where I now live. Their food is all fresh and local and is served with the Louisiana influence of owner Arienne Landry. I love their fish tacos and their tuna melt, but I had never reviewed their burger. Until today.
Saturday is generally a busy day at Just For You. They are a very popular place for breakfast and they have a brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays. I went late and avoided the wait. Stephanie was in charge today and she always takes great care of me and the rest of the hoards. As always the entire staff was friendly and prompt.
I ordered the Bacon Cheeseburger ($10.50). Even though they don't have gruyere on the menu, they always have it, so that is what I asked for. I also added fries ($2.50). The burger comes piled high with tons of fresh vegetables. Green leaf lettuce, tomato slices and pickle slices are piled on the nicely toasted Acme white bun. Mayo was liberally applied.
My first day in San Francisco—and much of my whole trip—was rainy. But despite the unusually rainy weather, the best part of my first day was having breakfast at Tartine Bakery. Located in the Mission District, Tartine has been a neighborhood standby since it was opened by the husband and wife team of Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt in 2002.
Both trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and traveled throughout France before settling in Northern California. Prueitt is the pastry chef and Robertson is the baker. You can find Robertson baking daily at the bakery and Prueitt running the sister restaurant Bar Tartine, which is just a street away.
Every morning at the bakery is a busy one. There is always a steady line wrapping outside the doors rain or shine, literally. Two weeks ago I stood in line with my friends under umbrellas to taste Tartine's sweet confections. The smell wafting from within was enough to convince any one of us to patiently wait for a morning bite and a cup of Joe.
Every city has its famous market building and San Francisco is no exception. On my trip to the city by the bay last month I couldn't help but visit the Ferry Building Marketplace, a collection of shops and restaurants all housed under one roof. The Ferry Building began in 1898 as a hub for ferries crossing the bay before the bridges existed. During the 1950s it had fallen into neglect, but in 2003 a thorough renovation was completed and the once derelict building was reborn as the modern market it is today. With more than 35 shops, there are plenty of places to visit for buying gifts, eating lunch, or picking up a number of foodstuffs.
What better time to visit the marketplace than on an a rainy day in the bay. On my first day in San Francisco, we stopped at the Ferry Building to take refuge from the terrible rain that was very unusual for March. The marketplace is almost always crowded, and on a rainy day that is especially true. For me it was hard to stay away, I ended up returning to the Ferry Building two more times during my stay in San Francisco—to buy gifts and to have lunch at the Oyster Bar. There are so many things to eat and do, that one day just doesn't seem to be enough, especially for a foodie like me.
The trouble with San Francisco is that there are way too many fabulous places to eat. Regardless of how much over-eating a person chooses to do, enjoying more than 3 meals a day may be the digestive limit. Just two days in which to eat in the city by the bay upped the ante for my family. Our weekend in San Francisco was to visit with our adult children. What a difference from those early years when only a small selection of beige foods would cross the little lips of our youngest. Now he’s 6’5”, so that early limited palate clearly didn’t stunt the kid’s growth. He and I plotted for months about where to eat, and at first we thought we’d go to one of the recent James Beard award winners, but all were booked four months in advance. How frustrating. But the depth of eating possibilities in the city and beyond left no time for sulking. Rock, paper, scissors, and plans were made.
On this perfect Saturday, we started the day at Tartine, the fabled bakery. A long line of hungry eaters surrounds Tartine every morning and evening, so we planned our arrival at the opening bell. Long lines in that neighborhood are pretty common because there’s such an abundance of good eating in so many places. If you are in the Castro/Mission area of San Francisco, just cruise the streets and jump into a line spinning out of one or another of the local food joints, and you’ll be well-fed.
Joe’s Cable Car Restaurant in San Francisco is where “Joe Grinds His Own Fresh Chuck Daily”. A large sign on the outside of the restaurant declares this in bold type. Joe’s has been around since 1965. It is a charming place on Mission Street just south of highway 280. You can’t miss it driving down Mission. Windows are loaded with neon signs of the Golden Gate Bridge, a cable car and other San Francisco landmarks. Joe obviously likes signs. There must be 30 signs in the parking lot warning you not to park without permission.
Entering the restaurant one is struck by its cleanliness and nostalgia. Christmas lights with little Santas are still strung neatly from the ceiling. Fake flowers adorn the room, but somehow they work because they haven’t become a dusty relic, but are clean and new looking. The floor shines bright. One of three energetic waitresses greets and escorts a diner to a seat.
Redrum Burger in Davis, CA sits catty-corner to an In-N-Out Burger just off the freeway. Redrum was there long before In-N-Out and judging from the line at lunch time on a recent Thursday, they will be there for a while longer. Originally called Murder Burger when it was established in 1986, Murder changed to Redrum (murder spelled backwards) when a contest determined the winning name in 2001.
The place feels a little shabby when you walk in, but it seems comfortable like an old sweatshirt. I went to the counter to choose between burgers. 1/4 lb. $4.29, 1/3 lb. $5.49, 1 lb. $11.49 or my choice 1/2 lb. $6.49. They have Buffalo too. The burger comes with cheese, mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. I ordered fries ($1.49), onion rings ($4.99) and on the recommendation of the counter-minder a strawberry shake ($3.99). They have various combo specials to save you money. “Twelve minutes”, he told me when he handed me my change.
You may have eaten at Slanted Door or even at Out The Door either at the Ferry Building or at San Francisco Centre, but you're going to want to try OTD Bush in the Fillmore. In addition to many of the dishes that Chef Charles Phan is famous for such as Vietnamese Spring Rolls and the Jicama and Grapefruit Salad or the Chicken Claypot, OTD Bush offers something else entirely. Breakfast!
I love breakfast but let's face it, going out for breakfast in this town usually means American fare, dim sum or maybe Mexican food. Now there is something new, Vietnamese food. At a press preview I got tastes of a lot of deliciousness. Hats off to Pastry Chef Chucky Dugo for a whole bunch of sweet and savory treats to dig into. I was crazy about the crunchy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside Beignets, Crepes with apples, Warm Banana Sticky Rice with toasted coconut and sweet and savory style pate choux pastries. The little puff pastries were still slightly eggy on the inside, just the way I like them.
Spork in San Francisco is my new favorite restaurant. Pat and I went there for dinner after a lovely day in the Mission, checking out all the vintage stores and eating Dymano Donuts.
Spork is a place serving old-school classics in a new-school fashion.
They have sustainable-this and local-that versions of slow-food takes
on old classics. And despite the political correctness of their
offerings, everything tastes like it was pan-fried in lard in a steel
skillet by my grandmother. That's a very good thing!
The In-Side-Out Burger ($14) screamed "eat me" from the menu. The beef is fresh from Sun Marin Farms. Two patties griddle-fried, peppery and crispy on the outside. Moist and pink on the inside. The concoction towers over the plate. It is a stack of ingredients as follows starting at the plate: Butter lettuce, tomato slice, beef patty, bun circle, special sauce, beef patty, tillamook chedder and a grilled onion topping so sweet it could be applesauce. The special sauce reminded me of the spicy thousand-island type I make at home, only no islands. You have to eat this with a fork and knife, but it doesn't diminish the burger experience.