How I Ate My Way Through San Francisco

So George goes to South Africa on safari and to wine country, Trey goes to Paris with a fellow chef and I go…to San Francisco.
San Francisco – one of my favorite cities. I just love this place. It’s beautiful. It’s a short plane ride. The shopping is great. And the dining is fantastic. Although this was officially a non-work trip, I can’t help but explore, learn, discuss, eat and drink in the name of research. I try to visit once a year because I find it so inspiring to be in a city where everyone seems to have an appreciation for food, wine, mixology, art and service.
Being a restaurant manager is funny because people who have the guts often ask me, “What exactly do you do?” In San Francisco, everyone seems to be in the know and people respect our profession in a seemingly profound way, which is partly why it’s always so rewarding to be there.
Here is a brief synopsis of my trip.
I usually stay at The Clift – partly because I love the boutique hotel world, and partly because my friend Stacy is the food and beverage director and always takes great care of me when I visit.
You shouldn’t miss The Red Room for a drink if you are in the city. The décor is super cool and the drinks usually have an element of surprise. Plus, it’s right by Union Square, a perfect place to stay.
This trip, my first dinner was at Aziza with a fellow foodie. I’ve read great things about this chef, and Trey recommended it to me as well. They were crazy busy. After a rough start, we ordered the tasting menu and all was well with the world. Each dish was more delicious than the next. My favorites were the goat cheese butter with quince and sea salt, the lamb carpaccio with fried black trumpet mushrooms, piquillo peppers and fresh herbs, and the squab basteeya (seriously delicious). The huckleberry soup was good too. We loved it.
The next day was Ferry Building day – a must. We browsed through Boccalone and Heath Pottery, and then had a fantastic meal at Slanted Door. I love their food… beef carpaccio (it was a theme) with fresh cilantro, parsley and peanuts on top, along with a puffed rice of sorts, was divine. Then there was the wine…the herbal, minerally, aromatic, and honeyed high acid wines that I love, all in one place! The standouts were Bründlmayer Grüner Veltliner Kamptaler Terrassen, the Hirsh Dry Riesling and D'oliveiras Reserva Verdelho Madiera 1973 that we shared with a perfect dessert of poached pear with Point Reyes Blue and honeycomb. After that we walked to Blue Bottle to have the affogato that Trey heard “was a life changer.” If you are not familiar with this coffee company, you should be. They represent a “newer’ style of espresso that is less bitter, has more crema, and is very distinctive. The affogato sang with its dense ice cream and dark brooding espresso. In its simplicity, I can see why it holds that reputation. We zipped over to the wine shop to purchase a bottle of the Grüner and then went shopping.
That night we ate at Barbacco in the financial district. I mainly wanted to go here because they have the iPad wine lists that are new in our world. Every local who we shared our dinner plans with responded enthusiastically, “You’ll love it there!” So my expectations were high…which is not always a good thing. The restaurant has a long galley-like space with tables and a huge bar. We took two seats toward the front and started fiddling with the iPad. I asked my non-industry friend to work with it so I could observe a guest in action. It was quite fun and informative, and it actually had us chatting with our bartender MORE than we would have otherwise. The food was solid and the wine was interesting – I tried “orange wines” for the first time, and felt very under-educated until I texted all my food and beverage associates and only one had heard of them. (I’m proud to say the one with the knowledge was our wine director, Nolan Cooper.) Orange wines are a new breed of winemaking and are intentionally oxidized; the skins remain in contact with freshly crushed juice for an extended period of time. The varietals are all different, and the wines taste completely different from each other, and strikingly like nothing I have ever tasted before. This was wine-geek heaven. I tasted one made by Convivo (who seems to be leading this movement) and will do my best to describe this wine.
I wasn’t a big fan, so at the risk of sounding pedestrian…it was the color of rusty blonde hair, smelled like someone’s grandma, and tasted like dust and dried apricots put together. The viscosity was crazy-weird…like water…with zero finish. Poof, it was gone (thankfully).
This is all the rage in San Francisco, so if you like to be in the know, go to Barbacco and learn about orange wines. I haven’t found them in San Diego or Los Angeles. The service was very SF: friendly, informative and professional. I would definitely go back.
The next day we skipped lunch, but went to RN74 for dinner. If you are on Twitter, follow them. They sound like they have a lot of fun and drink really good wine. The room is stellar. RN74 is the train route that goes through Italy and the décor is über cool train station, industrial, machinery-ish hip. It is borderline kitschy, but it works. It was rockin’ busy there (everywhere, really). They treated us very well. In fact, the service was over the top. The food was good, but again, the brilliant wine list made my experience. We had Weingut Knoll Grüner Veltliner (a little effervescent – love that), Marisa Cuomo Ripoli, Genestre (acidic yet with a lush mouthfeel) and Ghislaine Barthod Pinot Noir from Burgundy. All well balanced, elegant and lovely.
The next morning on the way to the airport, I was wearing flip flops with my suit, and my friend was wearing cowboy boots with her dress – San Diego and New York bound. I’m already plotting my next trip back.