When I went to London in 2005 alone, I was far less of a “foodie” and my eating adventures were laughably lame and my records of where and what was ingested are spotty. So, I wondered what I would be able to cover when I’m traveling alone again. With three full days, I had up to nine meals if you count breakfasts. I had dining companions for three meals and, I think, did quite well for the rest.
Fancy Wheat Field Bakery [Yelp]
In Chinatown, the place to visit is Golden Gate Bakery. The queue can be long and when it’s your turn to order, the wait may prompt you to order more, justifying the time spent in queue. With a Grant Avenue location, I walked the length of Chinatown (which is primarily Grant Avenue) and admired the old architecture. San Francisco Chinatown is the oldest in the United States but kept up well. In the early morning, there were locals walking around and even though I’m not in my home city, it feels familiar. There was no queue at the bakery… because it wasn’t open! “Vacation”, the sign simply said in English. Two days later, I would pass by and the sign was still up but it did look like they had returned and would open the next day.
So I still had egg tarts on the brain and had to find another bakery to satisfy it, skipped one old school and dimly lit bakery and head into Fancy Wheat Field with their corner location and bright and modern feel. It reminded me of the chain bakeries in Beijing but the goods weren’t actually so innovative. I had an egg tart with butter crust that wasn’t warm and a large bun, and drank Hong Kong style tea in the corner seating area with the locals.
What is more fun for me than selecting from many individually wrapped and flavoured chocolates to fill my goody bag exactly as I choose? Nothing! Rather than paying per pound, I opted to fill a “Chinese take-out” container for $20 and that was just plain fun. I eschewed the normal flavours like mint and got new and harder to find flavours: sea salt, raspberry, sea salt caramel, pumpkin spice, cookies ‘n’ cream and strawberry. I’m only sorry I only visited the Concierge kiosk afterwards and missed out on a 10% off coupon.
I wish I hadn’t eaten so much Chinese bakery goods so I could, a couple hours later, have eaten something from Boudin. San Francisco is famous for its sourdough and Boudin is especially famous for it. I loved the bakery/marketplace at the pier and sampled some sourdough. It was perfectly sour and chewy and crusty in the right places. In the end, I did so much walking and encountered so many hills there was no need to worry about overdoing the bakery items!
I got it into my head after visiting Lombard “Crookedest” Street to visit the boutique shopping streets on my way to Union Square. I’m not much of a boutique shopper but there’s that allure to poking around and potentially find a unique treasure there rather than shop yet another chain retailer. I walked on Union Street and Fillmore Street and at the latter, I saw Bun Mee which was familiar from glancing over the 7×7 Big Eat 2013: 100 Things to Try Before You Die.
Indeed, the sloppy bun with an egg was recommended and I had no qualms after reading the menu description. The restaurant was a casual but nice place with cheeky-come-vintage decor. The sloppy bun is a Sloppy Joe (saucy ground meat) meets Thai (red curry sauce) meets banh mi sandwich. The organic egg was cooked sunny side adding to the sauce. It was amazing. When I asked for no cilantro, they happily complied but I think they also didn’t give me pickled carrot and daikon, boo.
When I met up with Ken, I wanted a drink. As in, it felt like a really good idea after a big walking day and to unwind for the evening. He doesn’t really drink and we ended up walking into the perfect place. Sugar Cafe is equipped for people working at their computers during the day and wanting to sip caffeinated drinks. In the afternoon, it’s more appropriate and possible for you to work while drinking wine and in the evening, the light dims and it becomes a lounge. It was an accessible and cool place for me to unwind with a glass of wine and catch up with Ken on, well, years of news.
Ken mentioned there is quite a bit of Thai food in SF and recommended that we eat at Osha where he been before. It’s a cool Thai restaurant and we ordered to satisfy both rice and noodle desires. We ordered a pad khee mao which was really nice and green and rather spicy at medium heat. To keep the vegetables going, we also ordered a pumpkin red curry with tofu and served with white rice. It was also very satisfying.
I saw sold on going to Brenda’s after Andrea told me about going there for brunch. She waited for 90 minutes but I hoped that arriving just in time for lunch starting (at 11 a.m.) on a Friday would save me the wait. It also helped that I was dining alone and I immediately got a seat at a counter next to two other solo diners. The menu was perfect for sampling their food which I was bent on doing since beignets and biscuits were recommended by Andrea and 7×7, respectively. I ordered a cup of their house favourite chicken etoufee which a biscuit as a side. You could order one piece of Brenda’s Fried Chicken so I ordered a drumstick. The beignets were harder to order a la carte and I couldn’t decide amongst three of their four flavours so I ordered a flight of four, the largest thing I ordered. It was a fun meal. The etoufee was hearty and flavourful and the biscuit was warm and I ate all of the crust. The drumstick had a spicy batter and was perfectly tender and moist. At the restaurant, I ate the crawfish beignet which was fishy but so good. Later I ate the plain beignet which was doughy and even later I had the chocolate beignet which had melted Ghirardelli chocolate and it tied with the crawfish as my favourite flavour. Naturally.
Caltrain pricing is such that there is no return fare and the day pass is the same price as two single rides. I made the most of my day pass by observing on the way south to Sunnyvale which stop I would want to get off at on my way back. San Mateo was one of the stations where the city seemed close to the station and I alighted with some excitement. But that was rapidly dashed – when it was truly quiet on the main street closest to the station. I was parched and needed just a big bottle of water and spied a long queue out of a shop called Tpumps. It turned out to be a bubble tea joint and the line reminded me of the constant line out of Chatime on Dundas West in Toronto. I definitely had the time to line up for bubble tea.
At first I wanted a frozen slush and the closest on the menu was a smoothie. But as I watched people exit with their drink orders, I realized people were only ordering tea or milk tea. The chatty girls behind me swore by strawberry passionfruit but I was going to get all my favourite flavours in: strawberry and lychee black tea with passionfruit popping boba. I could be wrong but “boba tea” seems to me a California regionalism for what we more often call bubble tea. Thirst quenching, yes; best … it tasted really fake and you know it because you can mix flavours so easily. But now I realize there is a Chatime in Vancouver and I want to try it since it claims to be regarded by many to be the best pearl milk tea in the world …
Off the Grid at Fort Mason Center
I was looking for ramen in SF because I love ramen and because it’s easy to grab a bowl on my own. Hapa Ramen caught my attention with their Big Daddy Bowl and I learned about Off the Grid, a food truck event, on Fridays because Hapa would be there. Or so they said. I bore the challenges of riding Muni both ways to Fort Mason Center and didn’t see Hapa but pieced together a decent meal regardless.
It looks like I was in a Hispanic food mood but it’s partly strategic. I was looking for smaller items to be able to sample more widely. I was looking for cuisine that I wouldn’t normally eat in a restaurant and possibly new cuisines. 7×7 guided me first to El Sur Empanadas Artesanales and I tried their Parisien. These were pre-baked and served instantly and hot. It was a gorgeous hot pocket of cheese, ham and savoury flavours.
I have to admit that the name Sanguchon of Sanguchon Peruvian Sangucheria made me think of Korean and the name stuck and then I all the more intrigued because it serves Peruvian, a new cuisine to me. In fact seeing a couple of Peruvian restaurants along my walks also made me want to try. More representative of the cuisine may have been the chicharron but I missed it and ordered Bollitas de Yucca – chorizo wrapped in cassava coating. The vendor seemed to want to sell me more which annoyed me. Sorry, I didn’t want a whole sandwich and not be able to have anything else after. No do I want a drink and drink my calories!
To round out the Spanish-named foods, my OTGFMC dessert came from Rocko’s Chocolate Tacos. I wanted dulce de leche ice cream in my taco-shaped waffle but they ran out of that ice cream and I asked for coffee. These non-vanilla ice cream tacos are pre-made and it turns out I got coconut ice cream. It wasn’t awful and quite pleasant with all the flavours of waffle cone, dark chocolate dip and white chocolate drizzle!
Go to Tartine, the guides all say and I was pretty happy to head west from the apartment instead of north towards Market. It was a decent walk (5 miles total) to and from Tartine. There was queue out the door but people weren’t grumbling despite the line to place your order and the light drizzle. It took a total of half an hour for me to get in, order and leave with three items. Yum!
Almond croissant was my breakfast and it rivals Thomas Haas’ almond croissant in my opinion. Super flakey and the almond flavouring was very good. I had the Rocher later as a snack which was a whipped mound of meringue with crunch cocoa nibs/chips inside.
My breakfast Sunday at the airport was the banana date tea cake which was super moist and a bit sweet. Not advertised were the walnuts which were chunky and great bites.
I was a little worried after fellow blogger/Tweep Angela suggested The Creamery as it’s not well rated. But it’s great to check out a local place right next to the apartment and the food was good!
It was that point in a trip when I needed to toss out my gluttonous urges for omelet and crepes loaded with fatty and salty meats so I ordered the Mediterranean Vegetarian Sandwich which was more Italian/French with tomato, basil and Brie on a baguette. And there was a side of salad. It was perfect and what I needed and I couldn’t eat as scarily fast as I normally could with that crusty baguette and creamy and filling Brie!
I only overlapped with my cousin whose apartment I stayed with on the last night. She made a reservation at her favourite SF restaurant and I wouldn’t have known by the name but it was like an izakaya, Japanese fusion fair in a hip and homey spot just north of Chinatown. For the three of us, between excitedly getting caught up, we picked six appetizers and one main:
- Asparagus in peanut (goma-ae) sauce with crispy shredded carrot
- Tuna tartar on herbed flatbread wedges
- Peppered sea scallops with lemony Japanese dressing
- Fried salmon rolls topped with roe (I didn’t like many of the dark sauces served on the side so can’t describe them)
- Maine crab cake fashioned so differently in a chunky creamy sauce
- Yellowtail sashimi with golden beets and avocado
- Grilled sea bass with green beans and garlic noodles
Everything was just really good and I would want to share my cousin’s favourite place with anyone else when I return to SF, which won’t be as long as 20 years from now!