Let Me Feed You San Francisco

August 17, 2012

San Francisco – all I will say about this extremely pretty and fun-loving city is that the song by Scott McKenzie about wearing flowers in your hair is seriously misleading – the wind that is so prevalent in the summer here will blow them away within minutes! Geez Scott, did you ever even go to San Fran?? Apart from that, great song, great city.
I feel that I really need to crack on and finish these posts on the US so that I can get to writing about the many places in Melbourne I have notes and photos for but haven’t had the time to write about yet – so these last two posts will be somewhat brutally succinct (by my standards, anyway).

Sushi Sebo

517 Hayes St, Hayes Valley

Sushi Sebo is where I had the best sushi of my life. I won’t go into too much detail, but I heard about the place from Anthony Bourdain’s episode on San Fran, so knew I was in good hands. The chefs, while not Japanese, have trained in Japan and by god are they good with their raw fish! Each piece was beautifully presented, expertly cut and the fish all had distinct tastes.

My friend M and I had dinner here on our first night in the city, and while somewhat out of the way from the city centre, it’s well worth the trip!

Top L-R: uni (sea urchin) from Santa Barbara, kohada (gizzard shad), hotategai (scallop).
Bottom L-R: mystery fish that I cannot identify but that was yummy, Shimaaji (striped jack), Buri (mature yellowtail), Mebachi maguro (big eye tuna).

My favourite by far was the sea urchin, a new gastronomic experience for me. I admit I had some premonitions of unpleasant textures or smells, but was instantly proved wrong. The best way I can describe it is as fatty, creamy, jiggly sex on rice; sea urchin sushi will blow your mind.

I enjoyed my first plate so much I ordered three more pieces, which were equally refreshing and tasty.

L-R: Buri (mature yellowtail), Iwashi (wild sardine), uni (sea urchin).

Thank you Sushi Sebo for an eye opening experience into what great sushi really tastes like!

Then M and I went and shared a few beers in the pub across the road, which was laid back and buzzing with young people. Perfect end to the evening!

Mama’s

Washintson Square (cnr Stockton and Filbert St), North Beach

The next morning we power walked through Chinatown and up through North Beach. The two of us were on a mission; a mission to Mama’s! As you can see, Mama’s on Washington is rather popular at breakfast time, serving up classic American dishes. While classier than a diner, old stalwarts like pancakes and omelettes feature heavily on the menu.

Inside, the place is brightly lit with natural light and has a casual, homely feel. We queued for about 45 minutes, before being let inside to place our order at the bar and then being taken to our table. The clientele were a good mix of young people and families, and our waiter was particularly attractive (always a bonus).

I maintain that it is near impossible to photograph an omelette and make it look interesting. Nonetheless, here is my tasty crab omelette with fresh tomato and avocado, plus some home-style potatoes (what’s the deal with Americans and serving potatoes with every breakfast meal?). Can I just say, there was a TON of crab in here (if interpreting this literally, keep in mind I have an appalling sense of metric weight), plus the fresh tomato and avocado kept things light.

M also had an omelette but I cannot for the life of me remember what was in it apart from that it was delicious. Special mention also to the fresh and sweet orange juice – nothing like a Californian orange!

Then we shared some incredible blueberry pancakes for breakfast dessert. Then we never ate again. Ever.

Liguria Bakery

1700 Stockton St, North Beach

So I lied about the not eating again ever (surprise!).

Across the road from Mama’s is Liguria Bakery, and all they sell is focaccia. Inside, the place is empty apart from a long white marble bench with a lady sitting at one end. On the wall is a small blackboard with a simple list of options: onion, tomato, rosemary, olive, garlic, rosemary and garlic. Devastatingly simple. You simply pick which one you want, and the lady goes to the large back room of the bakery where there is an old brick wood fired oven and deftly slices up a huge piece for a meagre $5.

We ordered the garlic and rosemary and ate it later in Sausolito after cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was bloody delicious, and reminded me of being in Italy. I love the puckered look of focaccia bread, and the heady taste of quality olive oil made all the difference.

North Beach is a cool area, and well worth taking your time to wander around and browse old record shops and little boutiques.

We found an awesome little deli that had some great organic produce on offer plus incredible pantry items, like bacon salted caramel.

Bacon.
Salted.
Caramel.

Or, if bacon salted caramel doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, try their bacon spread – America’s love affair with bacon truly is impressive, and is perhaps only rivaled with a similarly strong love for peanut butter.

Another day while in Muir Woods we ate our cafe-bought sandwiches outside, and the park rangers had put up some funny anti-litter posters that I enjoyed and thought I’d share (don’t litter; please recycle!!)

Golden Gate Bakery

1029 Grant Ave, Nob Hill

If you’re walking along Grant Ave through Chinatown, you absolutely must stop and try a baked custard tart from the Golden Gate Bakery. I’d read about this place on other blogs, and all had reported on the long queues of people that form on the street, itching to get their custard tart fix.

And, having tasted one, I can see why. Golden Gate Bakery bakes these little treats continuously throughout the day, so when you buy them the pastry is crumbly and buttery, and the custard is warm and has that entrancing jiggle to it.

In-N-Out Burger

Later that week we drove to Yosemite and camped there for the weekend (spectacular), and on the long drive back to San Francisco M insisted that we stop at an ‘In-N-Out Burger’, a Californian rival to McDonald’s that’s been around since the forties and is still family owned.

I never write about fast food, but I found this place kind of intriguing. I can’t tell if it’s because I was on holiday in the States, or because the staff actually seemed happy to be there, or because the burger was actually pretty tasty and reasonably fresh, but I enjoyed eating here. Plus, with the owners being strongly religious, all food containers and boxes and wrappings have bible verses printed on them. Welcome to America, folks.

Tropisueno

75 Yerba Bueno Lane, Civic Centre

For our last evening in San Fran, M and I decided on Tropisueno, a fun Mexican place bordering the Mission district.

Our meal started with a brilliant trio of complimentary salsas. The most unusual salsa (and my favourite) was the orange, which we think was made with capsicum and was warm and smokey with a kick like a mule.

Started off with a lil’ bit of ceviche, bay scallops in lemon and orange with El Jimador Enejo, capsicums and habanero. The scallops were brilliant and soft, especially with the citrus tang and a slight chili kick. A great take on ceviche.

We also shared some tacos de cachete, braised beef cheek, taco truck style with onion and cilantro, salsa, tomatillo and radish. Despite being a tad wet, they were some of the best tacos I’ve ever had. M, who is American-Mexican herself, attested to the authenticity of the food here

(Though I have to admit nothing will quite compare to sitting by a river in Yosemite with M and her family, eating freshly grilled tacos and pork, plus some of the spiciest salsa I have ever had. That was a sensational experience.)

By way of drinks, we went a bit nuts sampling their cocktail menu – the watermelon margerita was refreshing, but my favourite from the evening was some sort of tequila based concoction called “The Other Woman” (though in the menu this was written in Spanish), pictured below.

As a main, we shared the Huaraches “Tres Cochinitas”, tortilla “sandals” (very apt visual description) with three kinds of pork – chili verde, carnitas and al pastor with pineapple. The tortillas were thicker than usual, and had been fried but were still soft inside. The toppings were all wonderfully tasty, but I’d recommend sharing because that is a lot of meat for just one person!

Al’s Attire

Finally, this last place isn’t about food but I was quite taken with it so thought I’d share anyway.

Al Ribaya has been making shoes for the past 30 years, and since then has had a number of skilled tailors join the team at his shop in North Beach. They specialise in vintage-inspired, one-off pieces of clothing and pairs of shoes for clients who come in for fittings, most of whom enjoy long histories with Al and his designs. Past clients include Tom Waits and Rob Schneider.

It was such a pleasure walking around and admiring the handicraft – it really is a shame that custom coats like the beautiful cream one below take up to two months to complete and not just a week! Ah well, a girl can dream..

Thank you San Francisco, for your streets and your people and your food – till we meet again!

Filed under: United States

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