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A Trip to the City… a Gastronomical Perspective

In case I haven’t told you yet, my wife and I are expecting our second child any day now.  So this past Sunday, I took my wife and our firstborn up to the City (SF) for sort of a “last night out.”  We were fortunate enough to still have enough HHonors points to stay one evening at the newly renovated Hilton San Francisco Financial District Hotel.  The hotel was well-appointed, the service was great, but don’t be fooled by it’s name.  This was the former Holiday Inn in Chinatown.  So the outside is old and ugly concrete with several adult videostores and hole in the wall Chinese joints in the vicinity, but the interior is quite the opposite.  But anyways, that’s where we stayed.

So, I did this “night out” primarily for my wife.  So, in the beginning, all we did was go shopping.  I must admit, that in that process, I melted into an ogre.  Or, I shouldn’t say “melted” because it was pretty instant.  Gap, Old Navy, Nordstrom…. ugh.  Me no like shopping.  Me hate shopping.  Me think shopping should go to HELL.  Shopping for me is about as enjoyable as sitting on a cold concrete chair that is actually not a chair but a sculpture of a porcupine.  But, get this, by the time we left SF the next day for home, I was all smiles.  Let me give you a chronology…


Teaz Me Bar and Fusion Cafe
Westfield San Francisco Centre
865 Market St.

San Francisco CA 94103

My sister took my wife to this tea place at the San Francisco Centre recently and insisted that I try it out too.  She had the pomegranate lemonade last time and she really liked it, but this time she tried the honeydew splash.  I tried the sparkling tangerine ginger.  The honeydew splash tasted like…well, it didn’t really have a whole lot of taste.  If you can imagine the taste of honeydew, but replace the acidity with corn syrup and then add about three parts water to make sure there’s not too much taste, then you have what this hip tea joint calls a ‘honeydew splash.’  My sparkling tangerine ginger was better.  The ginger really kept the drink alive but was well-balanced by the tangerine flavor.  I gave some to my son and he pushed it away saying, “Ahbaicey,” which in his language means “spicy.” 

It was fun watching the “bartenders” make the tea though.  They tossed the martini shakers and the various bottles around like we were at Coyote Ugly.  But to my disappointment, I didn’t not see them add any tea.  Nor did I taste any tea.  Odd.  The menu brochure said there was tea.  What a teaz.  Plus, for $2.95, the best they could offer by way of fruit juice was Torani.  Yes, it’s the IBM of artificial syrup–the one your boss will never fire you for–but it’s still syrup. 

My opinion:  Lotsa frills, lotsa money, not much else. 

Rating: 


Beard Papas
Westfield San Francisco Centre
865 Market St.

San Francisco CA 94103

I heard about this Japanese cream puff place on the news and my wife heard from her friends it was good.  It’s located in the food court of the San Francisco Centre as well.  The first thing to notice is how long the line is.  This was by far the most popular stand.  Second, there are only three items on the menu:  vanilla creme puff, chocolate creme puff, eclair, and one “special of the week.”  This week’s special was strawberry creme. 

These cream puffs are quite large–about the size of sausage mcmuffin.  So we just ordered two:  vanilla and eclair.  I’m not a huge fan of sweets in general, so keep that in mind, but I actually enjoyed them.  The pastry was light, flaky, and delicate, a stark contrast with those frozen cream puffs you can buy at Costco which have a certain rubbery quality to them.  The cream was much more like a runny custard, so it made for a pretty messy but fun eating experience.  But they were light in taste–not too thick or gooey–and matched quite well with the pastry, both in intensity of taste and in lightness of texture.  The eclair was basically a vanilla creme puff dipped in chocolate.  The chocolate was slightly bitter, but a bit too hard, in my opinion, for the lightness of the pastry.

My opinion:  A successful Asian adaptation of a French classic that is a must try.  Purists will walk away disappointed, though.

Rating: 


Hilton Concierge Lounge
SF Chinatown
750 Kearny Street
San Francisco, CA 94108

Our points allowed us to grab a room on the executive level which gave us access to the Concierge Lounge.  In the lounge they serve evening hors d’oevres and an “upgraded” continental breakfast.  The hors d’oevres, in a word, were gross.  While nicely plated, the deep-fried samosa-ish appetizer filled with chicken, spinach, and cheese tasted like oily cafeteria leftovers.  It was bland and lacked dimension.  There were chips & salsa and veggies & dip, however, as well as sodas and an honor bar. 

In the morning, there were french pastries, muffins, fresh fruit, and a variety of cereals.  Not bad, but not great.

My opinion:  Since it didn’t cost anything extra for lounge access, not much was lost.  But not much was gained either. 


Rating: 


Steps of Rome Caffe
SF North Beach
348 Columbus Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133

Recommended by my sister’s friend.  Looking for some pizza, we were surprised when we entered into this little bustling Italian caffe where all the tables are too small, too close together, and the waitstaff speak too little English.  At first, I thought, “Oh, how authentic, they speak Italian to one another.”  And then I realized it was not because they were trying to be more Italian.  Case in point, it took my wife several minutes to find out what sort of dressing was in the salad.  We were in Italy (well, at least in one of those hip restaurants in Rome catered to tourists).  And it was amazingly fun to be there.  Not only were the waitstaff entirely Italian, they were entirely crazy.  They were constantly yelling at each other, engaging in mini-contests with one another, making jestful jabs at one another, dancing frenetically to the Italian pop music, and tossing around dangerous items (e.g., glass bottles).  Whenever an order was ready, when someone won one of those mini-contests, or simply when someone was excited, they would clang a dish or a spoon on the granite countertops or the glass lighting fixtures.  It was Sunday night and it was loud.

The food was close to what you would call “authentic.”  The pizzas and pastas are simple and straightforward, unlike the overloaded combination pizzas or fancy primavera pastas we’ve grown accustomed to in America.  We ordered a pizza with pepperoni, sausage, and prosciutto ($11); rigatoni bolognese ($11); a green salad ($5); and tiramisu ($4).  The pizza was thin and large enough for one person.  The sauce and cheese were savory but did not draw your attention away from the toppings.  The oily-salty of the pepperoni and sausage were well tempered by the soft and lightness of the prosciutto.  Although, overall it was a bit on the salty side.  The bolognese had a great robust flavor with diced carrots for sweetness.  The minced beef was fine without being sandy.  The rigatoni was fresh and had that slight chewiness to prove it.  I’d call it “al dente” except that it had a different “bite” than dry pasta.  It was rather salty though, too salty, in fact.  The salad was expected.  The tiramisu, however, stole the show.  My wife, who ordered, ended up having to forgo it because she realized it had rum.  So I had the chore of eating it all.  Eating this tiramisu was like feasting on a chocolate-coffee cumulus.  The cake was thin and perfectly moist (not soggy) with the slight bittersweetness of coffee and chocolate (no hint of rum, though).  The cream was mild in sweetness, perfectly smooth in texture, light and almost bouyant–it coated the mouth with pure happiness.  And the chocolate dust on top melted on the top of our mouth like snowflakes.  This may very well be the best tiramisu to have ever graced my mouth.

My opinion:  A bit on the expensive side, although you are in North Beach.  The atmosphere alone makes this place worth visiting.  The food would be amazing if it weren’t so salty.  But do NOT miss the tiramisu.

Rating: 


Golden Gate Bakery (no website)
SF Chinatown
1029 Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133

Have you ever had to wait in line for a Chinese egg custard tart?  Have you ever ordered a dozen egg custard tarts in the same quantity that people order Krispy Kreme, and paid $1 for each tart?  I kid you not, Golden Gate Bakery has the absolute best egg custard tart you will find here in the Bay Area.  The crust is so delicate and so flaky that it wilts as you hold it and eat it.  The custard is sweet, eggy, smooth and light, just taut enough to hold together in the distance between your hand and your mouth before it disappears into the ether of pure Cantonese joy.

My opinion:  You get what you pay for.  Just open your wallet and then open your mouth.  You won’t regret it and you’ll wonder why they made Mandarin, not Cantonese, the national language of China.

Rating: 


Blue Bottle Coffee Co.
SF Hayes Valley
315 Linden Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

I found out about this coffee kiosk in several magazine articles.  Blue Bottle has made their mark on the coffee scene with their individually dripped single-origin coffee ($2).  In a subculture that prefers hot, fast, and non-fat extra-whip, Blue Bottle customers must…wait.  Each drip coffee is individually prepared to order.  Blue Bottle doesn’t use an automatic drip or even a french press.  Rather, they use the manual drip method that simply uses a filter over a cup.

I, of course, ordered a drip coffee.  My wife, searching for Paris in SF, ordered a cafe au lait ($3, 1/2 double-strong coffe + 1/2 steamed milk).  The drip coffee of the day was a blend of three African beans.  The coffee was bold and dark but very clean in taste.  It was so fresh and so smooth, that for about a quarter of the cup, I drank it with absolutely no cream or sugar.  But the 16 oz cup they serve is just too much, especially given the strength of the coffee.  So after about half the cup, I was done.  I suspect, though, that my relative inexperience with drip coffee held me back.  For my wife’s cafe au lait, the coffee held up surprisingly well to the milk.  It was both strong in flavor and extremely rich with all that steamed milk.  It was as luxurious as a capuccino, but obviously not as light.

My opinion:  Well worth the visit.  But I felt out of place among the rich, hip, cool glass and expensive coat types.  Their espresso is top notch (“third wave”) but if you like drip coffee, don’t miss out on this truly “hand-crafted” coffee.

Rating: 


Moishe’s Pippic (no website)
SF Hayes Valley
425 Hayes St #A
San Francisco, CA 94102

A fluke.  In order to get to Blue Bottle Coffee Co., we ended up parking in front of Moishe’s Pippic (which is Yiddish for “Moses’ Belly Button”).  On our way back, my wife had to use the restroom, so we stopped in here to buy something so she could do her thing.  She ordered a potato latke and went to the back while they warmed it up for her.  As I paced around, I was surprised at how many reviews had been written about this place and how amazing their pastrami was.  So, I decided to try it.  I asked the owner what to order and he pointed to the special:  Pastrami Sandwich with Salad ($8.75).  It seemed a bit expensive, but I was in a Chicagoan Jewish Deli and I wasn’t going to contest.

A couple minutes later, he placed before us a four-inch thick pastrami sandwich with macaroni salad and a dill pickle.  The pastrami was touched with a little bit of mustard in between a couple slices of unpretentious rye.  Amazing.  The pastrami was so moist with just enough fat and the spices enhanced with just enough salt that your taste buds couldn’t decided whether to allow your mouth to keep chewing or to hurry up and swallow.  The macaroni salad–macaroni, mayonaisse, yellow mustard, hard-boiled egg, and relish–was light and slightly acidic and the dill was still crisp and light.  These together with the saltiness of the pastrami worked wonderfully.

My opinion:  An amazingly good pastrami sandwich by people who don’t like to use words like “artisan” or “hand-crafted” or “authentic” and the like.

Rating: 

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