Friday, January 22, 2010

San Francisco

Taken from the new De Young Museum looking toward the Sunset District. Photo credit: Robert Guerrero

San Francisco is the city of my birth. My father and my step-mother both attended Mission High School in the Mission District. After moving to the City in 1940 from Oklaholma my paternal grandmother spent the rest of her life living on Tiffany Avenue in the Mission District. My mother lived in around the City as a child and again as a young newlywed when she and my father married. My maternal great-grandfather owned a barber shop on Market Street until the 1906 earthquake put him out of business. At age eighteen after living in France for a year, I settled in San Francisco. It was the first big city I lived in as an adult. I have a strong sense of history, and a connection to place with San Francisco that is important to me. While I didn't really grow up in the City, it's still one of the cities where I feel at 'home.'

Robert and I spent the three-day Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend visiting 'the City' -- as most locals call it. It was wondeful to be back. I have so many memories now from so many years of coming and going. My adult memories are of my time in the food and restaurant business dating back to the early 80s. Selling cheese at the food emporium the Oakville Grocery; the tyrannical French chef I worked under at Today's on Union Square; working with Jeremiah Tower at his Stars restaurant; socializing with all the 'foodies' of the time. Those were heady, food-filled days. Naturally, this trip also involved food and eating.

One of my favorite things to do in San Francisco is to visit the remodeled Ferry Building. When I was a child, the double-deck Embarcadero Freeway ran right in front of the building. It was the entrance to and exit off the Bay Bridge that started or ended further down the Embarcadero towards North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf. It was ugly and it marred the end of Market Street. The ferry building was nothing but ratty gray offices, a no man's land. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake seriously damaged the freeway it was torn down, the Ferry Building was remodeled and it's now like a European food hall. Individual vendors such as Cow Girl Creamery, Acme Bread, and Hog Island Oyster Company line the cavernous halls. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays there's an outdoor farmer's market. Every time I go there is something new to try. This time it was Boccalone -- Tasty Salted Pig Parts, a salumeria that has a wonderful variety of cooked and cured salumi and salami, hot and cold sandwiches, and their specialty -- Salumi Cones: sliced meat served like a sno-cone.

Boccalone - Tasty Salted Pig Parts in the Ferry Building.

A Salumi Cone from Boccalone.

We grabbed sandwiches at Boccalone and sat outside on the water with my friend Robert Ruiz and ate. After Robert took off we met up with Anna Petruolo and Lisa Robbins of A Dinner Together, foodie friends from Portland on their first visit to San Francisco. Anna is a personal chef in the Portland area and their company specializes in local and sustainable meals. We wandered around the building and through the farmer's market ooing and awing at all the amazing food. I always like to end my visit with a coffee from Frog Hollow Farm. Frog Hollow Farm is a 133-acre organic farm located in Brentwood, California on the Sacramento River Delta that produces twenty-five varieties of peaches, nectarines, cherries, apricots, pluots, plums, pears and grapes. Their little stand inside the Ferry Building sells strong coffee and great baked goods.

Local mushrooms at the Far West Fungi stall.

Brussels sprouts for sale at the framer's market.

Other highlights of the weekend were dinners at Nopalito and SPQR. Nopalito was recommended by David Lebovitz of the food blog: Living The Sweet Life In Paris. He raved about the carnitas and since it's one thing I can't get enough of I had to go. It certainly lived up to the hype. All of the food did. Our San Francisco friends Denise and Pete who had never been to the restaurant loved their meals. Nopalito specializes in traditional Mexican cookery while using 'local, organic and sustainable ingredients,' something I support fully. The carnitas were among the best I've ever eaten. The Quesadilla Roja con ChicharrĂ³n that we got for the table was yet another amazing pork belly dish, and the Ceviche Verde de Pescado y Calimari was so fresh and delicious I couldn't believe it was cold and rainy outside. Matthew Accarrino, the chef at SPQR was recently called a 'forager' and a 'wild man' by Serious Eats because he does exactly that: he forages and gathers wild edibles in the surrounding area like the Marin Headlands where he gathers watercress for a burratta with peperonata dish; wild chickweed for a baby-beet salad, and fennel pollen from wild fennel seed to be used in several dishes. We ate a pasta dish with nettles that was delicious: 'Stinging nettle torchio, garlic cream, pancetta and parmesan.' The rest of the meal included two starters: 'Spiced ricotta fritters & smoked maple syrup,' and a 'Pork belly 'croccante,' sundried tomatoes, olives & gremolata'; for our main courses Robert had the 'Petrale sole, cauliflower, capers, verjus butter & pinenuts' while I had the 'Lamb shoulder, chestnuts, mushrooms, parsnip & dandelion leaves.' The foraging chef came through for me. The flavors were earthy yet subtle and I liked knowing that some of the ingredients were locally foraged. On Monday before we left for the airport we ate cheeseburgers at the Slow Club in SoMa with our friend Andrew. Like so many restaurants in the Bay Area it's also all about being sustainable and local; this was printed on their menu: "We use produce & meat from farms & ranches that practice ecologically sound agriculture whenever possible." Ya gotta love the Bay Area and its serious foodies!

Since food and eating were the focus of this trip I had to check out the new cookbook store Omnivore Books in Noe Valley. I've been adding substantially to my cookbook collection over the past six months and I'm always curious to see what a store might have. This store is a small delight hiding out in a quaint San Francisco neighborhood. It has all types of books -- new, antiquarian, collectibles. The store is well-organized, has every type of book one could want, many of them signed by the authors. I stumbled across a signed copy of 'City Cuisine' by Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Millikin, a book of recipes for dishes they served at their restaurant 'City' in Los Angeles during the 80s. I grabbed it up and it's now part of my growing collection. When we weren't eating we visited the recently re-done De Young Museum as well as the Palace of the Legion of Honor where we saw the show: 'Cartier and America' about the French jeweler and his relationship to the States. While at the De Young we stopped into their cafe (I love museum cafes and restaurants) for a coffee with our friends Karen and Chris who very kindly got us free admission to the museum. The cafe is run by a company called McCall Catering and the chef, Lucas Schoemaker is an old foodie friend from my 80s food days. We didn't get to see him but I noticed that, of course, the food is seasonal and local! 'Seasonal and local San Francisco!' should be a new catchphrase. We had a great time in the City. We did a lot, saw some good friends, ate some wonderful food, and returned to Los Angeles sated and relaxed. We both enjoyed being in a 'real' city (sorry Los Angeles!) where we walked often and a lot. San Francisco has always been a food city to me. And this trip did not disprove that.

The Golden Gate Bridge taken from the Palace of Legion of Honor. Photo credit: Robert Guerrero

**A big thank you to Robert Ruiz for all the great foodie recommendations!

Please Vote For Me! The Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook Contest: I have entered my baked papaya recipe, 'Chef Wally's Baked Papaya,' into the Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook contest. If selected the recipe will be published in cookbook published by Andrews McMeel Publishing. To vote go to the top of my blog to the Foodista icon. Thanks!

My Status:
winter (lots of rain recently & we need it!) in Southern California -- cooler days, cold nights, comfort food. Off to Yosemite this weekend to attend the food event 'Chefs' Holidays 2010 at the Ahwanee': three days of cooking demos, lectures and eating with chefs Suzanne Goin, Duskie Estes and John Stewart at the Ahwanee Hotel. Can't wait! Also new cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to use. More cooking, eating, writing, and blogging.

Upcoming Posts: Interview with Chefs John Stewart & Duskie Estes
owners of Zazu & Bovolo restaurants in Sonoma County. Reviews: Venezia: Food & Dreams by Tessa Kiros, My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur by Romney Steele, The Spirit Kitchen: Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices by Sara Engram and Katie Luber and Kimberly Toqe.

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  1. I'm still super jealous that you got to have the Salumi Cones!

  2. But we so thought of you while we were eating them!!

  3. Great post - I loved every bite of our trip to SF. THANKS

  4. So glad you were part of it, Robert! Thanks for eating all that great food with me.

  5. sounds like a pork filled weekend! I love Boccalone. It is a good idea that I don't live in SF or I would spend too much time and money in the Ferry Building. Thanks for bringing back the memories of such a great foodie city!

  6. Sounds like a wonderful trip and the pictures are great - love the brussel sprouts.

  7. Such a fun getaway! That salumi cone looks fantastic, I would love to try!

  8. Ah, I love San Fran. What wonderful time in my favorite city! I'm totally going to try Boccalone next trip out! Yum.

  9. Kristen: it was a pork filled weekend. That was my first visit to Boccalone and I'll be going back.

    Thanks, Adele. The only thing missing was YOU, of course!

    Natasha: you must try it when you visit SF!

    Phoo-D: it is such a great food city. I always love my visits.

  10. Oh San Fran! It far tops LA. :) After the Foodbuzz trip in Nov, we knew we had eaten our way through the city.