I love to travel. For a true-blue foodie, vacations are a chance to sample local delicacies and unusual foods. I mark my vacations by the meals I eat. I remember each day of a trip by what I had for lunch or dinner. Sometimes I even plan a vacation based on the food.
We recently took a trip out to San Francisco to visit my dear friends Lisa and Beth. Lisa and I are high school buddies and Beth is just as much of a foodie as I am. And what better place to be a foodie than San Francisco.
The whole city is like one giant buffet. Around every corner is a fabulous bakery, bistro, taco stand, ice cream shop or gourmet grocery store waiting for me to sample their delicious wares. Our connecting flight was delayed in Phoenix, so we were late getting in. But Beth was prepared with the most direct route to her favorite exotic ice cream shop, Mitchell’s. Half an hour after landing, we were sampling flavors like purple yam, avocado and lychee ice cream. I chose Mexican chocolate, which was dark and sultry with a hint of cinnamon. Welcome to San Francisco!
Lisa and Beth live in the middle of the mission district. One block in any direction transported us to marvelous dining. On our first morning there, we walked two blocks to Tartine, a bakery that food writer Mark Bittman claims has the best croissants in the country. I haven’t eaten as many croissants as Mark Bittman has, but Tartine certainly served the best ones I’ve ever tasted. I had an orange breakfast bun, a delicate, buttery swirled pastry with a sticky, orangey crust and that stayed in my teeth for about half an hour, reminding me of its crunchy goodness. It was heaven. Jason had an enormous ham and cheese croissant that was supple and chewy and filled with savory ham and slightly melted Swiss cheese.
We had tickets for Alcatraz that afternoon and we planned to take the train to Pier 1 and walk to Pier 35 to catch our ferry. Beth made me promise not to go into the Ferry Building at Pier 1, where local food purveyors have storefronts. She had a trip planned to that very spot the next day for the famous Farmers Market that sets up each weekend. But I had to scope out the shops first. We spotted Boccalone Salumeria, an artisanal cured meat shop, and I vowed to go back the next day for a salami. Scharffen Berger chocolates also has a shop at the Ferry Building. And the Cowgirl Creamery cheese shop also piqued my interest. The San Francisco Farmers Market is a blog post unto itself.That night we went to the Fillmore for an evening of fine Texas music with Carrie Rodriguez, Alejandro Escovedo and Los Lonely Boys. Before departing for our night at the Fillmore, we sampled some local pizza, perfectly prepared at a tiny neighborhood establishment just two blocks from Lisa and Beth’s place. While waiting for our pizza, we popped into the gourmet grocery store two doors down. If I lived two blocks from this place, I’d ascend to food nirvana on a daily basis. Quality cold cuts, beautiful cheeses, locally baked bread and vibrant produce graced the isles. I was transfixed. On Saturday morning, Beth and I were off to the Farmer’s Market while Lisa took Jason to see the sights and take some pictures. Neither Lisa nor Jason would have the patience to stroll through the crowded tents and taste the beautiful samples being offered at almost every stop. For me, this was near to a religious experience, a dizzying maze of locally made jams, pickles, cheeses, spice mixtures, smoked fish, meats and an unbelievable assortment of the most perfect produce I’ve ever seen. Again, this experience deserves it’s own blog post.
After worshiping at the Farmer’s Market alter and procuring lunch, Lisa and Jason collected us and we went home to bask in the glow of our morning. That night, we walked two blocks for a special dinner at Range. This is one of Lisa and Beth’s favorite spots and their recommendation did not disappoint. We started with lovely little pasta pillows stuffed with goat cheese and sorrel in a lime butter sauce and succulent pork spare ribs with a brown sugar glaze. For my entree, I had a beautiful cut of flat iron steak, lovingly prepared to the perfect doneness, served with a barley salad. Lisa had a roast chicken unlike any I’d had before, the skin as crispy as if it were fried. Jason’s dish was the winner of the night, a skate wing with a lemon caper sauce served on a bed of wilted vegetables. I was scarcely able to keep from licking the plate. After dinner, we went home to rub our full bellies. Beth tried to convince us to walk seven blocks to her favorite ice cream parlor, but none of us could either muster the energy or cram another morsel of food down our throats. We were done for.
Breakfast on Sunday morning was a feast of local delicacies we picked up at the Farmer’s Market, including the most delicious smoked salmon on earth. Lisa and Beth had an engagement that day, so Jason and I rested at home and when they returned, we headed out for one of my favorite dining experiences San Francisco has to offer: DIM SUM!
Every time I visit Lisa and Beth, we MUST have dim sum. We picked up a friend of Beth’s and headed to Ton Kiang, which is located in an eclectic neighborhood some distance from Chinatown. The food was excellent. In and amongst the dozens of plates on our table were foil wrapped chicken, bar-b-qued pork buns and the most magnificent shrimp and scallop dumplings that have ever passed my lips. We spent two and a half hours grazing and talking. It was the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
That night, Beth finally convinced us to walk the seven blocks in the rain to Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream for a late night treat. It was worth every step. The “secret breakfast” flavor was tempting, bourbon and corn flakes, but I went with a scoop of brown butter and a scoop cinnamon brittle. It was damn good ice cream.
The night before we left, we got hammered on margaritas and stumbled down to Lisa’s favorite Mexican restaurant for a huge plate of enchiladas. I came home a few pounds heavier with a raging case of heartburn and immediately started a diet. Many, many thanks to Lisa and Beth for the perfect vacation. San Francisco isn’t going anywhere and I know we’ll be back to spend time with our wonderful friends eating our way through one of the greatest food cities in the country.