It'd been a few years since my last visit to San Francisco--at a time when my interest in food wasn't as it is today--so before this trip I put out the obligatory call on twitter to solicit where to spend my money. Needless to say I received enough responses to have covered a month of eating out in the city. Sadly for me I only had a few days of dining ahead of me so I had to pick wisely, filtering though neighborhoods, cuisine and must-have dishes.
The hotel was centrally located, just off Union Square, so most places on the itinerary (yes, there was an itinerary, reservations needed to be booked) were within walking distance. Even climbing Russia Hill to reach the top of Lombard Street was easy, gotta check off the SF tourist bucket list. Taking the street car is perhaps a more sensible way to do this, but the boyfriend insisted on making use of our legs. Health nut.
As mentioned, reservations were made for evening meals, it is a major city and I didn't want to be left out in the cold. I only packed one sweater. Foreign Cinema in the Mission District was on the agenda for the Friday, while Zuni on Market Street was reserved for Saturday, more on those below.
No day can start without coffee, and it was off to Blue Bottle Coffee Co. for the morning cup o' Joe. There are a few locations around the city operated by Blue Bottle but the coffee can be found in other restaurants, it was its Mint Plaza location we ventured for our brew and knew immediately its popularity, with a line out the door about 20 deep. Alas, it was recommended by many so we obliged, and glad we did. The coffee was just right and paired neatly with a very spicy but delicious soft in the center ginger cookie, so definitely make use of the small selection of pastries on offer. We returned the following day for the cookies alone.
OK, not technically San Francisco specific but no trip to California can be had without a visit to In-N-Out, it's a must, deal with it. For me, it's the Double-Double Animal Style. I'll just leave this here, no words of mine can better describe this photo.
Not content with one lunch, a second was in order. There was far too much to be eaten and all that walking was tiring business. Slanted Door in the Ferry Building was a nice place to perch and overlook the bay while sipping on a house-made Pimm's Cup, a blend of vermouth, gin, amaro topped with ginger ale and sparkling wine. As it was the middle of the afternoon only a limited menu was available but still substantial, we split a plate of Grilled Lemongrass Pork Shoulder Vermicelli with crispy rolls filled with pork, shrimp and roasted peanuts with a spicy dipping sauce. It was a pork kinda day.
Lunch the following day was reserved for Chinatown, the boyfriend wanted a true Chinatown experience. A friend recommended City View Restaurant, it isn't your old school tourist trap Chinese restaurant, there are no bamboo walls or water fountains as decor, the dishes were simple, well made, fresh and full of flavor. Most people visit City View for the dim sum, served from airline style trolleys filled with a variety of dishes - spring rolls, dumplings, pork buns, wontons - that roll past each table, should anything look good then you tell the server what you would like and it's served up, if it hasn't already been forced upon you by the over eager servers. The dumplings were the most impressive, we tried the vegetarian steamed. If dim sum isn't what you're looking for then a full menu is available, we also chose a plate of Singapore Style Rice Vermicelli.
Foreign Cinema was where we dined on Friday night and perhaps the most impressive meal we had all weekend. It was a solid, well rounded and affordable meal experience. The main non-food attraction at Foreign Cinema is its courtyard which each night plays host to a movie projected onto the back wall, with speakers dotted around the perimeter of the courtyard that are not too close or too loud but just enough to hear the dialogue should you want, or alternatively providing just enough background noise to muffle out a conversation from the adjacent table. The movie playing on our visit, fittingly was Haute Cuisine. The subtitles helped.
With a weekly updated menu there is plenty to choose from, I went with a Brined BBQ'd Pork Chop with the other entree being the Alaskan Halibut with butterball potatoes. I think the most interesting dish I tried here was the Roasted Baby Poblano with creme fraiche served in a cast iron skillet.
For pre-dinner drinks go no further than Laszlo, a dark yet airy Eastern European cinematic themed bar next door, and conveniently owned by the same folks as Foreign Cinema. If you can't score a reservation at Foreign Cinema they do offer up its full menu at Laszlo.
Zuni Cafe is located right on Market St close to the Castro, there is one dish here that is worth the trip alone, which I'm sure you'd ordinarily pass over. The whole Roasted Chicken served over a Bread Salad. A whole chicken served broken down for two to share: two breasts, two wings, two thighs each perfectly seasoned with crisp skin, moist meat and topped off with a heap of mustard greens. As the boyfriend put it "that's a good fucking chicken." A couple of things to note with Zuni: reservations are recommended a month in advance, the chicken can take up to an hour to prepare, and the location isn't on the best part of Market Street, if it's dark out I suggest taking a cab, but well worth it.
Despite my calves sore from all the hill climbing and my waistline a little wider from all the food, I could have used another day or two in San Francisco, I got what I went for and that was great food, great drink and some pretty awesome sights.