Upcoming Event: SF Chocolate Salon

5 03 2014

Chocolate. Just say the word in your head. Chocolate. Aren’t you just a little bit happier now?

I love chocolate. Chances are, so do you. Which is why you might want to make room in your busy schedule for the upcoming 8th annual SF Chocolate Salon at Fort Mason on Saturday March 15, 2014.

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Per their website, activities include: chocolate tasting, demonstrations, new product launches and flavor combinations, fair trade & organic offerings, celebrity chef & author talks, wine pairings, Chocolate Art Gallery, games, ongoing interviews by TasteTV’s Chocolate Television program, and book signings. Not to shabbs, if you ask me. And yes, I bolded the words “chocolate tasting”. I felt they needed to be bold.

You can get tickets on their site for $20 (adults, advance purchase) and $10 for kids up to 12. (Children under 6 are free.) The price goes up to $25 for adults who get there early, and $30 if you just wanna rock up whenever you want that day.

And the best part (for me) is that I’ve been invited to be a judge! My name is on their website and everything (under “award judges”). The invite said this of the task: “As a Judge, you simply attend when you want, taste what you want, then afterwards vote on your top picks using our confidential online voting form. You will also be listed on the Salon’s website.” Um, yes please. I like all those things, including the laissez faire judging style and free chocolate.

Yeay chocolate! See you there!





Hillstone

2 03 2014

I’ve done this before, and I’m sure I’ll do it again. A few weeks ago, I found myself wandering about the Embarcadero in search of food around 3pm. I wanted to see the newly remodeled Fog City Diner, so, starved, we walked down to their location across from Pier 23. For some unknown and seemingly unnecessary reason, they do not serve food between 2.30 and 4.30pm. I find that this happens to me on vacation a lot — arriving at a restaurant “between meals”. So irritating.

cheeseburger from hillstone ($19)

cheeseburger from hillstone ($19)

Now what? Well, a short stroll north down the Embarcadero is Hillstone. I’ve seen it many times before — it has a nice umbrella-covered outdoor patio and peaceful location on the west side of the street. And they’re open at 3pm for lunch or dinner or whatever you want to call it. They will give you food at 3pm if you give them money. Perfect.

The inside is large, open, and has built-in booths and dark wood accents. It has kind of an upscale lodge-y feel to it, which reminds me of a steakhouse. And while it’s not a steakhouse per se, it does have a similar menu that includes burgers, chicken, fish, ribs, and, indeed, steaks. While the atmosphere was nice, and the menu certainly looked good, my general feeling was that it seemed pretty ordinary-suburban. There is nothing wrong with this — it just didn’t particularly wow me with the special flair that is so common at SF restaurants.

house made veggie burger from hillstone ($19)

house made veggie burger from hillstone ($19)

We certainly did have an enjoyable meal, however. I had wanted to try a variety of the appetizers that looked delicious (house-smoked salmon, oak-grilled artichokes, spinach and artichoke dip, emerald kale salad…), but opted for the house-made veggie burger ($19) instead. My quest to try every veggie burger everywhere (and subsequently rank them, obviously) and my insatiable desire for french fries won out.

a closer look at that veggie burger

a closer look at that veggie burger

The veggie burger at Hillstone has beets in it, as evidenced by the red hue of the patty. Otherwise, I can’t tell you what else it’s made of, just that it’s good. My companion had a regular (meat) burger ($19), which he also thought was good. The fries were yummy, and the service was attentive. The whole experience was just fine, though I wouldn’t put either the restaurant or the veggie burger at the top of my list of favorites. So while I won’t be jumping to return, I will keep it in mind for the future — it’s always nice to know your options, especially for larger parties and outdoor seating.





The Slanted Door

21 02 2014

Sometimes you go to a restaurant in SF and suddenly feel that you’ve been inducted into some sort of exclusive group of people. There are a variety of these restaurants, which, incidentally, you typically can’t get a table at without rigorous and meticulous preparation, or, alternatively, without waiting for two-plus hours on a given night. As I’m not typically inclined toward the latter, the former is my chosen option for such places.

Inside The Slanted Door... image from their website: http://www.slanteddoor.com/images

Inside The Slanted Door… image from their website: http://www.slanteddoor.com/images

The Slanted Door is one of those places. You want a reservation for 7pm for two people? It’s February 21 today, and Open Table tells me that you’ll need to wait until at least March 3 to get a table before 8pm, and even then, that table is for 5:30. Let’s just say we’re dealing with high, though not thoroughly hopeless, demand.

And the reasons aren’t unsound* — the place is great in all sorts of ways. First, it has a primo-supremo spot at the north end of the Ferry Building with views out onto the water and sparkly Bay Bridge (sparkly at night, of course… not at your 5:30 reservation). Second, the menu is fun, creative Vietnamese and is pretty extensive; and third (related), the food is great.

As I’ve only been once, I was left wanting to try more, of course, but the dishes I did have were generally very good. In review:

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vegetarian spring rolls

The vegetarian spring rolls (tofu, shiitake, cabbage, mint, peanut sauce — $11) were surprisingly amazing. I typically prefer the crispy (read: deep fried) rolls, but opted for the healthier option this time. They did not disappoint and had great flavors and texture.

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diakon rice cakes

The diakon rice cakes (shiitake mushroom, shallot, sweet chili soy — $14) were not what I expected, which was also surprising since I actually know what a daikon is. It was a sort of pureed, re-constituted diakon patty that was quite delicious if you liked the spongy texture, which I did.

cellophane noodles with crab

cellophane noodles with crab

The  other three dishes were veggie dishes that we ordered to be our shared mains (we had a real vegetarian with us, though she was open to trying some type of seafood). The cellophane noodles with crab ($21), rodoni farm brussels sprouts with beech mushrooms ($11), and the wood oven roasted catalan farm butternut squash ($12) were all pretty dang good, and indeed pretty unique and interesting.

brussels sprouts

brussels sprouts

butternut squash

butternut squash

We all had different favorites, but mine was the noodles. The crab was minimal, but the understated amount was just enough since the dish is pretty delicate on its own and probably wouldn’t be well served by an overpowering amount of crab (though I generally never complain about too much crab). My vegetarian friend couldn’t hack the crab, and liked the brussels sprouts the best. They were all great dishes, and, while I don’t think they necessarily were meant to go together per se, we certainly all enjoyed ourselves.

And then we were left with dessert. The choices were decent, though you may recall that I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to dessert. And, uncharacteristically (for me), we ordered the valrhona chocolate & peanut butter cream pie with peanut crumble ($10). I love peanut butter… on a PBJ. Or in a peanut butter cup. But, generally speaking, that’s it. I have learned, however, that a good restaurant can make anything good, even things I don’t typically like. And I was right. This “pie” was awesome. And it actually took a decent picture, which I (sadly) can’t say of the rest of the meal.

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So. Slanted Door. I’ve been there (on a Tuesday). I spent all kinda money (and a gift certificate). I’m super cool (and use a calculator every day). Yeah. So there.

*Yes, that was a double negative. Deal with it.

The Slanted Door on Urbanspoon





Sotto Mare

7 02 2014

Sotto Mare (full name Gigi’s Sotto Mare Oysteria & Seafood Restaurant & Fish Market) is a small, old school seafood place right in the heart of North Beach on Green Street just off Columbus. I’ve lived in North Beach for two years and still hadn’t been — it was time. There’s a line out the door so often (the place is small and cramped) that I’ve just never expended the effort. A few weeks ago, the line was short and I went for it.

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I didn’t really know what to expect, and was hence very surprised by the atmosphere and the menu. I’ve sort of gotten used to the hoity-toity SF restaurant ambiance, which can range from rustic-chic to elegant-chic to hipster-chic, but is indeed very often some type of chic. At least when you’re paying $20 a plate or more. So I was surprised to walk into what I can only describe as a diner. Like, old school, knick-knacks all over the walls, counter seating, single-page laminated menu old school. It was interesting.

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We were seated at a teeny tiny table for two behind the counter seating. The thoroughfare right next to us was extremely narrow, and connected the entrance and behind-the-counter areas to the rest of the seating. So people were constantly whooshing by literally inches away from our table, which was a tiny bit claustrophobic.

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The menu is all seafood. It’s simple yet comprehensive; their specialties are fresh fish and oysters. I ordered the prawn and scallop combo saute ($19), and my partner in crime ordered the salmon, which was a special. We were provided a half loaf of bread in a basket, and the wine came in those thick, staunch wine glasses indicative of places that don’t have a particularly sophisticated wine selection. In line with this, the meals arrived on chunky, white, oblong plates from decades-ago diners.

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The food was good. The sauce on my saute was rich and creamy (read: buttery) and garlicky, the topping on the salmon was basically a garlic and butter rub, and the veggies were plain but fresh. While it wasn’t a terribly fancy meal with sprigs of this and truffle that, it was very good. And though this style of eatery isn’t my personal favorite, I can appreciate that they do something well and they’ve stuck with it. I mean, the place is booming every night of the week, so obviously not everyone wants Asian Fusion or Contemporary American food all the time.

In short, the place was quirky and had character, the menu was solid, and the food was good. And, you know, sometimes you want a bit of old school charm with your seafood. Next time I’ll have to spring for their acclaimed cioppino ($38, serves two)…

Sotto Mare on Urbanspoon





Presidio Social Club

1 02 2014

There aren’t too many restaurants way out in the Presidio, but the Presidio Social Club is one of them. Housed in a remodeled 1903 barracks building on the east side of the Presidio, this fairly large restaurant has an old-timey, classic, yet comfortable feel to it. The sweeping verandas and old fashioned counter seating juxtapose the open space, modern furniture, and abundant natural light.

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We went for brunch, and the menu was a totally mixed bag. Chiliquiles and huevos rotos sat alongside a croque madame, Vietnamese veggie sandwich, kale salad, and crab louie. I’m not sure what the theme is, but I like it. I ordered the Vietnamese veggie sandwich and added crab (which is in season), and my man friend ordered the ham and eggs benedict, but subbed crab for ham. It was a very crabby meal.

eggs benedict with crab

eggs benedict with crab

The benedict was good, but the veggie sandwich was amazing. Every bite was just incredible. It had a plentiful amount of crab, standard julienned carrots, cilantro, pickled onions, avocado, and some kind of aioli or other sauce, all on a hearty roll. It came with a little side salad and was just so, so good.

Vietnamese veggie sando with crab

Vietnamese veggie sando with crab

The service was pleasant, and the prices were reasonable (sandwich $10, plus something like $8 for the crab; $16 for the benedict; and $10 each for mimosa and bloody mary). They even had a cute outdoor patio in the back, but I was afraid of being too cold on a sunny SF morning, so we kept to the indoors. Certainly a great find; I look forward to trying more of the menu.

Presidio Social Club on Urbanspoon





Super Duper Burger

23 01 2014

Fast food is not what it used to be.

Ok, that’s not entirely true. McDonald’s and Taco Bell (et al.) still suck, unless you enjoy uncontrollable diarrhea. Which I do not. But Super Duper is in a new category. A category of food that I may decide to eat, like, willingly.

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There are two downtown/SOMA locations, and one in the Castro. I’ve passed by more than once and noticed that they have a veggie burger on their menu. As I am on an unofficial quest to find the best veggie burger in SF, I was curious. The other night, I ventured in, alone, to experience another contender.

First, some factoids about Super Duper in general:

  • The (regular) burgers are Niman Ranch and ground fresh daily
  • Their ice cream and shakes use organic Straus cream from Petaluma
  • Pies and cookies are baked daily in-house
  • The chicken sandwich is made from free range chickens
  • They make their own pickles (which are free!)
  • The veggie burger is organic and house-made
  • All packaging is compostable

And while none of those things is new or different in SF, and none of them seems particularly amazing by itself, together it shows a certain mindfulness of modern values like environmentalism and quality food. Which we food snobs flock to like hipsters to mustaches.

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Inside the Super Duper in SOMA

Their menu is similar to In-N-Out’s in its simplicity, but they also have a salad, a chicken sandwich, garlic fries, and a veggie burger. And none of that secret menu nonsense*. And, you can pay a bit extra for cheese, avocado, portobello mushrooms, an egg, or bacon on any of the sandos.  So, for about $8 (including tax), I got a homemade veggie burger with grilled onions, swiss cheese, and avocado. And it was incredible.

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Super Duper veggie burger

Half eaten veggie burger

Half eaten veggie burger

Like, it was so good that I was reluctant to think it wasn’t actually horrible for me. It certainly exhibits signs of being cooked in oil, though I don’t actually know if they fry it or not. The burger itself is made of all sorts of veggies and has a really great taste and texture. It comes with cucumbers and hummus in addition to lettuce, tomatoes, and special sauce (and raw onions except that I ordered them grilled). There wasn’t too much hummus such that I was overwhelmed in garbanzo land. The cucumbers were sliced thinly so as to blend in with the other flavors and not immediately fall out of the burger. The whole dang thing seemed more gourmet than “fast”, and if you had served it to me in a fancy SF restaurant, chucked some fries on the side, and charged me $20, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it.

Maybe I’m just a sucker. Or maybe it’s just really that good.

The pickles were good, but not so amazing that I ate the whole giant jar, like I thought I might. The garlic fries smelled amazing, though I resisted them on this particular trip. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t plotting my return… sometimes some fancy fast food really hits the spot. And I obviously need to try one of those organic milkshakes…

Pickles and pickles and pickles and pickles...

Pickles and pickles and pickles and pickles…

*That I am aware of.

Super Duper Burgers on Urbanspoon





Palm Springs

5 01 2014

Happy New Year!

You might think, oh, she hasn’t blogged in a few weeks, she is probably just being typically neglectful of her beloved blog. Wrong! I was on vacation, nerds.

good morning

good morning

Since I often speak in math: I wanted to go somewhere warm for the holiday break + I booked to late = Hawaii and Mexico were outrageously expensive + Florida is kinda far away + I’ve never been to Palm Springs. If you carry the one, it works out. Trust me, I’m an engineer.

So, Palm Springs it was! Four days at a resort outside of town and three days at an cutesy boutique in town just off the strip. Pools and hot tubs. Desert hikes. Food. And lots and lots of sleeping. It was awesome. I read a book. A whole one. And wore bathing suits — plural (not at the same time). I wore a dress on New Year’s Eve (covered entirely by a coat, of course). Vacation: achieved.

Summaries of food in both places: La Quinta Resort and Spa (outside Palm Springs) and Palm Springs:

La Quinta Resort and Spa (a Waldorf Astoria resort in the town of La Quinta)

One thing I was worried about going to a proper “resort” (this was my first time) was the food. The resort wasn’t all-inclusive, so we could have gone “off-campus” for food if necessary. But it would have put a damper on our sit-around-and-do-absolutely-nothing vacation, so we were hoping the seven on-site restaurants were suitable. When we arrived, we found that only three of the restaurants were open for dinner. We subsequently tried all three, returning to one of them twice.

The food was great. Like, unexpectedly above average. Like, “I’m a snooty foodie from San Francisco and I approve of this food” good. I was impressed and relieved. And I ate this food and was happy. Quick summary:

Twenty 6: Casual American food in an upscale pub-ish atmosphere. I enjoyed: house made veggie burger, flat breads, crab cake, and (my fav) the pickled purple cauliflower. I wanted to try more. It was all surprisingly good considering they have hundreds of people trapped on site who will eat this food no matter what.

(terrible picture of) adorable pickled purple cauliflower!

(terrible picture of) adorable pickled purple cauliflower!

(terrible picture of) crab cake with huge chunks of crab

(terrible picture of) crab cake with huge chunks of crab

Adobe Grill: Mexican food, just upstairs from Twenty 6. We had some tamales one night that were pretty good, but the appetizer patio dining is what got me hooked. We had the best nachos ever. Fine, maybe not the absolute best, but they were really, really good. And nachos are so easy to mess up that I was immensely impressed. Also, the grande margarita was GRANDE indeed.

(mediocre picture of) really really good nachos

(mediocre picture of) really really good nachos

margaritas may be larger than they appear

margaritas may be larger than they appear

Morgan’s in the Desert: Fancy American food with a James Beard Award-winning chef. Lots of seafood, salads, and great appetizers. I didn’t take any photos because I was feeling classy*, but the lightly fried artichoke hearts and accompanying dip were amazing. The Caesar salad was perfect, and both the salmon and black cod were tender and delicious. I wanted to try every single one of the sides (but restrained). Their take on a s’mores dessert was fab.

*Actually, I was more feeling self-conscious since I was in a dress. Same thing, right?

Palm Springs

We stayed at Korakia Pensione, an adorable Mediterranean/Moroccan boutique hotel in the heart of Palm Springs. The rooms are luxurious, the atmosphere is mellow and relaxing, the two pools are literally over 90 degrees in temperature (AMAZING), and the breakfast is included. And whole dang place is so picturesque it kinda hurts. So. Relaxing.

panoramic view of pool and surrounds from outside our room

panoramic view of pool and surrounds from outside our room

panoramic view of our room

panoramic view of our room

breakfast the second day (french toast the first day featured above)

breakfast the second day (french toast the first day featured above)

For NYE, we booked late but snagged a spot at Zin American Bistro. It was a fixed menu, three courses, and I would say the food was mediocre. My leek soup was yummy, but my friend’s trio of tartars was not good. The mains (fish and steaks) were good, but nothing super special. Dessert was meh. I’m not sure if it was just the pressure of putting on a holiday dinner, or if it’s always like that, and I’m sure I’ll never know. Either way the company was good.

(terrible picture of) the company

(poorly lit picture of) the company

Our last night in town we went to Copley’s. This place was good. And we finally found a place where the size of the dishes was inversely proportional to the cost. We had ordered too much time and again in La Quinta because we thought the dishes would be smaller for the price. Fortunately, we weren’t starving, the bites of food were delicious, and we were happy. I would definitely recommend this place for a nice dinner (or lunch) in PS.

Oh yeah… I will mention our first lunch in Palm Springs. We arrived at about 1pm starving. We tried to go to one place we found on Yelp, but it was a 30 minute wait. We went across the street to a seemingly popular place called Trio. After being seated (or, rather, before), we realized we were one of the only straight couples in the entire restaurant. We were woefully out of place, but with nothing else to do but order from our flamboyant waiter (who was very sweet), we ate. I didn’t love my grilled fish sandwich, but my companion’s sandwich was yummy and the rest of the food at other tables looked quite good. And, if you’re going to Palm Springs, there’s no escaping the prominent gay culture. So, why not get immersed for one lunch?








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