Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Gastronomic Tour of San Francisco

When asked what we missed most about San Francisco, our immediate response is generally the following: friends and family, sun and blue skies, and the food.  Oh, the food for sure. We miss Mexican, sushi, Vietnamese food, California wines, and the abundance of fresh fruit and veggies, which is second to none in California. In between visiting family in our respective hometowns, we also made it a priority to enjoy the culinary delights of Northern California and planned several day trips and dinner dates with our favourite S.F. based foodie friends.

On a ridiculously gorgeous day in San Francisco, we took a trip up to Tomales Bay with three friends for a picnic and oyster-feast at the Hogs Island Oyster Farm. Located an hour north of San Francisco on Highway 1, we took the scenic route along the windy road passing through the small towns of Stinson Beach, Bolinas, and Point Reyes Station and marveled at the view of the Pacific Ocean. 


We reserved a picnic table overlooking Tomales Bay and brought a large picnic spread of fresh veggies for grilling, chicken sausages, salads, beverages, and other snack items. The highlight, of course, was the oysters, which were as fresh as can be since it was just plucked from the estuary that morning. At a bargain price, we ordered 50 small sweet water oysters for $35, which we ate raw with a splash of lemon, and one dozen large sweet water oysters for $15 for BBQing, all washed down with no other than a California sparkling wine. It was a wonderful day of glorious sunshine, great company, and delicious food. 


On our way back to San Francisco, we stopped by Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station to pick up some artisan cheeses. We were originally scheduled to take a tour but missed the 3PM appointment as we were having far too much fun at Hog Island. We did manage to continue our eating extravaganza by having our cheese and dessert course outside on the lawn at Cowgirl. Wonderful day out in beautiful Marin County, and thanks to Mona, JC, and Clare for organizing an amazing picnic spread.

We also spent one day up in Napa Valley for some wine-tasting with my college roommate and her husband. The four of us hung out regularly when we were living in Rockridge so we were happy that they were able to spend the day with us. I can’t tell you how much we miss having Napa and Sonoma in our backyards. I turn green with envy when I periodically see Facebook updates of so-and-so sipping wine in Napa/Sonoma/Russian River.

Betty planned the wine-tasting itinerary; the agenda included: Anderson Conn, Robert Sinskey, Cliff Lede, and Joseph Phelps. We enjoyed the personal cave tour and the wines at Anderson Conn, which turned out to be our favourite winery of the day. Joseph Phelps was overrated which was a disappointment since I have heard nothing but great reviews, although the property was stunning. We took a break from wine-tasting and had ourselves a lovely picnic at Cliff Lede. It was hot by the late afternoon and in need of a break from full-bodied cabernet sauvignon, we opted for some sparkling wines at Mumm’s instead as our final tasting of the day.  


For dinner, we ate at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega in Yountville, which is considered as one of the Bay Area’s Top 100 Restaurants.  The restaurant was tastefully decorated with a nice patio area for alfresco dining. As starters, we ordered the Monterey calamari, Truffle-parmigiano fries, and Pesce Crudo of the Day, all were delicious and portions were generous. For mains, Betty, being the meat lover that she is, ordered the Wood Grilled Chops of Grass-Fed Lamb, which according to her paired brilliantly well with the Cake Bread Syrah, while the rest of us opted for Chiarello’s signature pasta. I thought my Red Wheat Linguine Bolognese was excellent, however Keenan thought the spaghetti of his seafood pasta was far too thick for his liking as it overwhelmed the delicate flavours of the sauce, and David ordered vegetarian friendly Heirloom Tomato Pasta. To round out dinner, we shared the Zeppole al Lemoni (Italian donuts cooked to order) served with Meyer lemon curd and berry Earl Grey sauce. 

Ummmm…mouthwatering. We couldn’t ask for a more perfect day in Napa with great friends, great wine, great food, and perfect weather!

Continuing our culinary tour, we also hit up some of our several of our favourite places, including the hole-in-the-wall Pho Saigon for huge bowls of piping hot Vietnamese pho on Stockton Blvd; our favourite sushi restaurant in Sacramento, Mikuni’s, where my family and I have been going for the past 14 years; the quintessential Californian In-N-Out Burger; and the Berkeley institution, the Cheeseboard. We even got our Mexican fix (x3) at El Castillo in Tracy, Nick’s Crispy Tacos, and Tlaloc in San Francisco for oversized burritos and bottomless tortilla chips. Keenan is a happy camper.
We spent a lot of time at the Ferry Building, one of my favourite places in San Francisco, enjoying our beloved Peet’s Coffee, browsing through the Sur La Table store, and dining alfresco at Market Bar with Keenan’s former co-worker and friend, who now works at the Ferry Building. We tried two new restaurants in San Francisco: Little Star Chicago-style Pizza with our Chicagoan-turned San Franciscan friends who are expecting their first child in December (congrats!), and Prospect in SOMA with another couple friend, Brent and Lena. I didn’t think anything can rival Zachary’s Pizza, but Little Star Diversadero came pretty darn close. Even our Chicagoan friends concurred. 
Sister restaurant of Boulevard, Chef Ravi Kapur opened Prospect last summer in the Infinity Tower in SOMA. His menu is highly focused on seasonal Californian ingredients. The mains ranged anywhere from $25 to $36 per plate and the wine list was even steeper. The group shared the halibut tartare and grilled octopus as starters, both highly recommended. Missing a good quality steak in London, Keenan and I both ordered the ribeye, which was nicely marbled for full flavour, while our friends had the goat roast and roasted quail.
Dessert was a treat! The pastry cook at Prospect was a former colleague of my friend Brent during their PwC days and she sent out a dazzling array of desserts for us to devour, including her own creation, the Griddled Peach Crepe with sweet corn ice cream, which was inspired by her mid-western roots; Ice Cream Sandwiches; and the Prospect Sundaes. As usual with our friends, we were the last to leave the restaurant at 12:30 am, a sign that it was a fabulous meal!

So overall, how was our trip back to San Francisco? Two words: incredible and delicious!


  1. good times! lily, you are the master shucker!!

  2. Sounds like you had a great time! I LOVE Hog Island!

  3. Lovely time M -- see you in London next month!

    Lady -- Hog Island is wonderful! I don't understand why we didn't take advantage of Northern California when we lived here.