The Latest San Francisco
By Lucienne Francisco
San Francisco has always been an amazing city to live in. Local neighbourhoods are microcosms of their residents' origins, Japan Town, Little Saigon, the Mission (Mexico), North Beach (Italian), Claude Alley (French) and China Town (with the largest Chinese population outside of China) and those are just the major nations represented. In the last 3 years, despite the downturn felt by the rest of the country, San Francisco seems to be quietly powering on with a brightness and complexity and that makes it an even more exciting city to visit.
The Ferry Plaza Building
Where once an earthquake shaken freeway stood along a derelict waterfront, newly planted palm trees line the road from the beautiful new Giants' Baseball Stadium in South Beach to Fisherman's Wharf. The Ferry Plaza Building lies halfway between the two, right on the water at the ferry terminal. The newly refurbished clock-tower building houses over 40 stores that make up a permanent 'farmer's market'. There is Sur La Table for kitchen wares, Hog Island Oysters, Frog Hollow for stone fruit, The Slanted Door Vietnamese restaurant, Boulot's Larder for provisions and Cowgirl Creamery, a Northern Californian cheese company that has gained fame for its quality farm-house cheeses. Visit The Imperial Tea Court to learn about tea from Mr Fong, a Daoist priest, in a beautifully traditional Chinese tea room (try the Imperial Puer tea with green tea & prawn steamed dumplings). Stop by the Tsar Nicoulai Caviar bar for at least 8 different varieties of caviar chased down by a glass of Champagne or shot of vodka. One of the many cafés, Mijita, is run by Traci des Jardins of Jardiniere, one of San Francisco's top ten restaurants, which serves seasonal, regional Mexican dishes learned by Traci at her grandmother's knee.
The organic farmer's markets are held every Wednesday and Saturday mornings and Thursday nights. Dozens of small Northern Californian growers and food stalls cram onto the foreshore offering an additional dazzling array of produce, coffee, small goods, flowers and food. My highlight was watching the early morning fog burn off over the Bay Bridge, eating 'Chiles en Escabeche Colimenses' (pickled chillies stuffed with beans & chorizo) and quaffing pineapple-cucumber & lime 'agua fresca' (read fresh juice) and a stand inappropriately named 'Primavera'. Every die-hard chef visits for inspiration.
For more information go to http://www.ferryplazamarketplace.com
On the corner of Octavia & Bush stands a quiet, butter-yellow house recently renovated by the very talented Michael Tusk of Oliveto fame and his elegant wife Lindsay. The dining room though small and crowded was hushed by thick linen. Fine crystal, antique silver and exquisite mismatched-porcelain place settings sparkle. Even the extravagant flower arrangements, subdued lighting and scented hand soap show a loving attention to detail, that made the whole restaurant shine. And then there was the menu! Michael Tusk’s food is described as modern Italian & French. We had a hard time deciding which dishes to chose. A huge selection of 25 First and Second courses was offered, much like 'Small plates' on some menus with 7 third courses and 7 desserts as well.
We started with the ‘Sformato of Wild Nettle with Fattoria di Felsina Olive Oil’ ($9.5) a beautiful green custard with the peppery oil and the perfect ‘Fried Squash Blossom with Burrata Cheese’ ($12). We also ordered a ‘Cartoccio of Cuttlefish & Zolfini’ ($13) presented in a foil package at the table and probably the most spectacular dish on the menu with earthy squid ink & creamy heirloom beans. We were sent the ‘Salumi della casa’ & the quite amazingly fragrant ‘Mortadella with fresh pistachios’ ($12) with bread sticks; all the cured meats and breads here are made in-house. For seconds (thirds or fourths? We lost count) we cruised into the ‘Agnolotti dal plin’ (pork, veal and Reggiano filling) ($18), ‘Taglionini con Porcini’ ($18) and the ‘Fairview Garden butternut Squash & Celery Root Raviolis’ ($18). These were some of the finest pastas I have ever tasted - the agnolotti so thin and silky you could see through them. Almost bursting we still rolled into the mains with the ‘Laughing Stock Farm pork leg, belly & garlic sausage with rapini & coco beans’, luscious, rich and perfect. We HAD to have dessert, were sent out a selection of the ‘Caramel, Torrone & Dark Chocolate Ice Cream Bombe with Wild Blackberries’ ($9), the ‘Brioche a Tete with Chocolate Pot de Crème & Mint Syrup’ ($8.57). In truth, the chocolate pot de crème is one of the best custards I have ever put in my mouth.
And to drink? There was a beautifully selected wine list by Steve Kopp and we went over the top with a bottle of the Austrian Prager 2003, the Brico Manzoni Barbaresco 1998 and finishing with a glass each of the Banyuls Cuvée Christian Reynal 1994 & the amazing Banyuls Grand Cru 1949.
And did I use the word amazing more than once? Quite frankly it should have been more. Quince was close to a religious experience, and one of my new favourite restaurants, anywhere. Not cheap, but worth saving up the pennies for.
Quince, 1701 Octavia St. SF 94109 (415) 775-8500 or www.Quincerestaurant.com for some sample menus.
Standing out for its longevity (opened in 1979), Zuni outpaces almost every restaurant in San Francisco. I started eating here at least 15 years ago and it STILL makes the best Bloody Mary (made with Balsamic vinegar), Caesar salads, hamburgers & shoestrings. I take an almost perverse pleasure in ordering those specials with unheard of ingredients. Reading the menu is a learning experience for any chef much less 'lay' diners. Chef Judy Rodgers' challenges, yet impresses with the simplicity of each finished dish. For some, Zuni is crowded and noisy with long waits for tables or food. No matter, relax and have fun people watching, drinking and ordering from the 20 odd long oyster and shellfish list. The specials change daily like the ‘Piccolo Fritto of Deep Fried Squid and Pimientos de Padron with parsley, lemon and Marash pepper’ ($11), ‘Prosciutto di San Daniele with Sharlyn melon, Sambuca and mint’ ($12.50) or the ‘Devil's Gulch rabbit and Black Mission figs roasted in the brick oven with frisee, pecans and Moscatel vinaigrette’ ($26). The expanse of glass, copper and soaring ceilings brighten up even the foggiest San Francisco day. When you visit, please say hello from me.
1658 Market St. San Francisco (415) 553-2522.
Medicine is a new concept Japanese restaurant, based on the old Zen Buddhist ideal of 'shojin' or 'working to better oneself'… food wise that is; thus the name 'Medicine'. Located in the downtown area, Medicine is trying to re-educate the hordes of office workers generally aiming for something from subway or pizza hut. I hope they succeed. There is a Zen-like feeling in the tranquil space, with the floor to ceiling windows, the long blonde-wood tables and stools. A relaxed atmosphere prevails with the "gracefully speedy" service as put by one reviewer. The menu is divided into small entrées then the 'set' lunch menus such as the ‘Soba set’, the ‘Tempura set’ or more temptingly, the ‘Clarity set’, which included simmered vegetables, artisan tofu, chilled vegetable clear broth and house-made pickled vegetables ($9.95). The entrées include ‘Maitake mushroom tempura’ ($5.50), ‘Yuba in soy broth’ ($5.95) or ‘Daitoku-ji fu’, a wheat protein cake simmered in vegetable broth ($9.95). The signature side-dish, 'organic 9-grain rice bowl' ($.75) was a stand-out, all texture and sublime grain flavours, with at least sesame, buckwheat, quinoa to name a few. Also sensational was the Yuzu Lemonade ($2.95) made with a fragrant Japanese citrus fruit, yuzu, not found in Australia. Specially selected teas come in glass teapots, and are constantly topped up with boiling water. The short but amazing sake list and organic wine list make the visit a truly happy one. Terrific value for money and worth stopping by.
161 Sutter St at The Crocker Galleria (415) 677-4405 or
Blue Bottle Coffee Company
A few years ago, the only decent coffee in San Francisco was made by the Italian barristas at North Beach (actually more than a few years ago now). Yet somehow the pools of 'latte' with extreme foam at Café Roma no longer seem authentic. Then Peets started serving good beans in the Marina (read Yuppie) and the more well-heeled neighbourhoods, which is still a good cup of coffee.
Now there are the guys at Blue Bottle (two of them, to be exact), roasting out of Oakland, and serving from the back of a work-shop in Hayes Valley, with a stand at the Saturday morning Ferry Plaza Farmer's market. They call themselves 'artisan micro-roasters' and they small-batch roast only sustainably farmed, organic beans, which is then served within 48 hours of roasting (and shipped within 8 hours of roasting). When their website quotes Saint-Exupery about perfection, you know the coffee is going to be good. I was taken to the back of a furniture workshop where the metal roll-a-door was rolled up, and a beautiful La Marzocco espresso machine had been placed on a large table. A cash register and a couple of stools near-by completed the picture. They have heaps of blends, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Chiapas from Mexico, a Sumatran and Ugandan blend to name just a few and interestingly roast a quite a few for that old American stand-by, the filter drip machine. Their coffee was absolutely the best in San Francisco and worth lining up for.
315 Linden St at Gough,(Hayes Valley) San Francisco or
Lucienne Francisco is the chef/owner of the Chelsea Tea House, 48 Old Barrenjoey Road, Avalon. For reservations call: 02 9918 6794
The current Australian Gourmet Pages’ review is available at: http://www.classic.com.au/wizard/TeaHouse.htm but Lucienne is just about to expand and I can’t wait to see what she will be doing in the near future. Her food is hot!