As I mentioned in my last blog, I have had another San Francisco restaurant review coming. A few weeks ago, my parents and sister were in town! It was wonderful to see them and I had a good time taking them around the city. It seems that all we did was walk, eat and drink, and since my parents were kindly picking up the tab, I was able to eat a lot finer than on my own dollar. There are some fantastic restaurants and bars in San Francisco. Back in October I did a review of the places I ate when I was in town for a Sephora training in my post I Left My Heart (and Stomach) in San Francisco, so consider this a continuation!
House of Nanking
919 Kearny Street, http://www.yelp.com/biz/house-of-nanking-san-francisco
The first time I visited San Francisco, I was 10 and it was on a family vacation. My dad always asks the concierge at our hotel for local suggestions on where to eat, and House of Nanking was recommended for Chinese food. At the time, it was a busy hole in the wall, not much to speak of, but we were blown away by how good it was. It was an obvious choice for us as our first meal together in San Francisco.
Since we first found it almost 15 years ago, House of Nanking has grown in size and popularity. They’ve expanded to include two small rooms instead of one, have more modern decor and tableware, and even sell t-shirts and hats with the logo. The menu too, was a little savvier than the normal dishes that one comes to expect from Chinese restaurants. We split an order of the house noodles, which were tossed with a fresh sesame oil, eggplant in a chili garlic sauce that was to die for, and the rest of my family had some sesame chicken that was served with grilled yams. My sister and I also got hot and sour soup to start. I have had plenty of hot and sour soup in my day but never one as light and tangy as this one! Sometimes this soup is a little greasy at your cheaper Chinese places, but this was not the case at House of Nanking. I also had some hot tea, the perfect complement to any Asian meal. The tea that the waiter brought to me was blossoming flower tea, a closed flower in a steaming glass mug that opened throughout the meal. It looked like a little undersea world was growing in my cup!
The Buena Vista
275 Hyde Street, http://www.thebuenavista.com
I like history, and a San Francisco bar doesn’t get any more historical than this. Originally a boarding house, the building reopened in 1916 as a saloon named the Buena Vista. It does have an incredible view of the wharf, and seated at the wide wooden bar or a table by the window one forgets that you are so close to touristy Fisherman’s Wharf. However, the Buena Vista does get incredibly busy, as it has another claim to fame: the originator of the Irish Coffee in America in 1952. We sat at a round table with friendly strangers as there wasn’t another seat to be had.
Watching the bartenders prepare the Irish Coffees is pretty exciting. It’s quite an operation, and the skilled bartenders pump them out quickly, as they make up to 2000 per day. The cute curved coffee glasses are lined up on the bar, and hot water is poured on them to preheat, and get the glass to the proper temperature. Once they are dried, two sugar cubes are dropped into each glass and the bartender pours piping hot coffee over the lot, spilling it all over the bar and his sleeves in the process. He then quickly mashes the sugar to dissolve it, and pours in a proper jigger of Tullamore Dew. The last step is to delicately pour prepared whipping cream over the back of a spoon to float it on the top. Drinking such a perfectly prepared beverage is such a pleasure. All of the ingridients meld together to create an invigorating, intoxicating experience. Some bars say they serve Irish coffee, when really they pour whiskey in a cup of Folgers’. But at the Buena Vista, it’s the real deal.
No. 9 Fishermen’s Grotto
9 Fisherman’s Wharf, http://www.fishermensgrotto.com
Our historical culinary tour of Fisherman’s Wharf continued with dinner at No. 9 Fisherman’s Grotto. My dad wanted to hit up this restaurant because he went there several times with my late grandfather during various trips to San Francisco. It opened in 1935 as the first sit down restaurant on the wharf. The minute you step inside you are taken back to 1930’s San Francisco. The decor, the wide bar with low, leather chairs, the pristine uniforms of the wizened old waiters, the windows with sweeping, picturesque views of San Francisco- it was all completely up my alley. I love stuff like that. The carpet was amazing too, probably not from the ’30’s but had the logo of a cartoon fisherman in a yellow slicker smoking a pipe all over it.
For dinner we had a bottle of Chianti, a fruity Italian red wine. I got a cup of clam chowder and red snapper pan fried in butter and lemon served with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. It was fantastic. I have had plenty of clam chowder, and this was certainly one of the best. It was rich and creamy, with plenty of clam bits and not overwhelmed by potato chunks. Also incredible were the mashed potatoes. You would think that mashed potatoes would be all the same, but these were some of the fluffiest, most flavorful potatoes of my life. Cocktail hour at the Buena Vista followed by dinner at No. 9 Fishermen’s Grotto makes for a most delicious evening.
3930 Judah Street, http://www.otheravenues.coop
Other Avenues isn’t a restaurant, it’s the co-op hippie market up the street from me, but we did get some good food for a picnic there. Zac and I were already familiar with Other Avenues, since this is where we get all of the mysterious ingridients that make our vegan and vegetarian diets wonderful. If the idea of a co-op grocery store is new to you, it is a truly awesome thing. At Other Avenues, the workers own and run the business democratically, and are committed to supporting organic and local farms and businesses. It’s a neighborhood version of Whole Foods, and not quite so full of itself. I especially like the bulk grains, spices, and even bath and cleaning products that you purchase by the pound and store in your own containers.
I sent my mother and sister over to Other Avenues to get supplies for a picnic in Golden Gate Park. My mom is a big health food nut, so I knew she’d dig exploring a new co-op. She and Mel came back laden with fresh baked sourdough bread, ripe tomatoes, avocados, and apples, and organic hummous and chips. The best find was goat cheese with herbs from a local dairy that we put in sandwiches for a perfect picnic.
1737 Post Street, Ste 370, http://www.yelp.com/biz/osakaya-restaurant-san-francisco
My parents have been to San Francisco many times before, but one place they hadn’t been was Japantown. It is fast becoming one of my favorite parts of the city, so I had to take them there and satisfy a sushi craving. Japantown is basically one big mall that spans several blocks. Inside is this adorable restaurant section that is made to look like a Japanese street, with fake cobblestoned roads and facades of Asian roofs. All of the restaurants have elaborate window displays with trays of plastic sushi and soup to advertise their wares. My parents, while being new to Japantown, have been to Japan, and said that the mall felt a lot like being there.
The place we picked, Osakaya, had some interesting-looking specialty rolls and was busy but didn’t have a long wait. Before long, we were seated with hot sake for me and Zac and Japanese beer for Mel and our parents. Delicious sushi rolls followed. I no longer remember exactly what we had, but everything was good so you probably can’t go wrong here. It wasn’t fancy, but if you want a Japanese restaurant that is quick, fresh, tasty, and affordable, Osakaya is the way to go!
And that’s it! I can’t believe that it took me so long to post this blog. Now it has been a full month since these dining experiences, and I’m actually driving down to LA tomorrow for a week to catch up with friends and family and see a Jack White show. Depending on how exciting my visit is, you may hear about it in a post to come!
Good Luck and Happy Travels