California


Throughout my whole trip to San Francisco, I was in hot pursuit of sweets. Namely cupcakes. Perhaps it was where we happened to have plans, but I never seemed to come across anywhere selling this (or anything worth stopping for, that is). After brunch at 15 Romolo, my friends drove us around the city a bit and we saw some of what we hadn’t seen yet. Along the Waterfront. Over and down Lombard Street (windy windy and oh so packed with tourists) and we weren’t far from a spot they said was good – Kara’s Cupcakes. I was thrilled!

They have different types. There’s there signature flavors, including the likes of “sweet s’mores”. There’s their filled cupcakes, such as passion fruit, meyer lemon, just to name a few). And then there were some seasonal options, such as key lime or their latest – “royal biscuit”, which is a nod to the London Summer Olympics.

While it might have been smart to have gone with their mini cupcake options (and they had quite a few), I felt since I’d looked for days for cupcakes, I’d earned the real deal. I went with the key lime, since I wanted to make sure to try at least one of their filled options. It was a graham cracker crust vanilla cupcake with a key lime curd filling with cream cheese frosting. Pretty good, though the cake part was a tad on the dry side for my taste.

I also had to get the sweet s’mores, which was a chocolate cupcake with a graham cracker crust and a toasted marshmallow frosting. This was good though, again the cake was a bit dry and warning! If you leave this one in the box to eat for later and oh, maybe walk around in the Haight for a bit thumbing through dresses at Ambiance and various vintage stores, you might (ooops) find that gorgeous frosting has slid off the top.

Kara’s Cupcakes – 3249 Scott Street (@ Chestnut), San Francisco – 415.563.2223

Thought we spent most of the San Francisco trip actually in San Fran, we did head out for one day to the wineries. After reading up on Sonoma and Napa and asking lots of questions of friends who had been before, I knew going in I was really hoping to spend most of the day, if not all, in Sonoma. I was really pleased when our tour company, Terrific Tours (absolutely great small tours – we were one of four couples!), chose to take us just to Sonoma for the day. We ended up visiting five wineries! Our line-up included Jacuzzi Winery, Robledo Family Winery, Walt Pinot Noir (situated just diagonal to the rear from Girl and the Fig), Ravenswood, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards.

After trying a couple of wineries, it was a nice break to head over to The Girl and the Fig off of the main square in Sonoma for a bit of food. We hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast in Union Square except for a few breadsticks one of the wineries served with their wine tasting selection.

The Girl & The Fig - Sonoma

The Girl & The Fig – Sonoma

Charcuterie Platter

Charcuterie Platter

It seemed appropriate after a morning of wine to try out their charcuterie platter. We tried cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk, which were all amazing. We ended up picking a lot of French cheeses, but they all worked well with the meat and the figs, which true to the restaurant’s name were rich, plump, and flavorful.

Duck Confit (1 Leg)

Duck Confit (1 Leg)

I’d read the duck confit is amazing at the Girl and the Fig, so I had to try it. Besides, I’d actually never tried duck confit! You have your choice of one leg ($14) or two ($20). It’s served with farro, baby carrots, Mano Formate bacon lardons, pea tendrils, and a bacon vinaigrette. I went with just one leg, which proved to be more than plenty for a quick lunch. The flavors were bold and the bacon presence prominent, which I loved. The skin on the duck was perfectly crispy. I could eat these bacon lardons every day.

Steak Tartare

Steak Tartare

My boyfriend’s grass-fed steak tartare was also good. Flavorful and fresh. It was prepared traditionally with raw egg, caperberries, lavender sea salt, and toast. If you’re in the area visiting wineries and want to incorporate a quick stop for something superb for lunch, this is your spot. We actually showed up without reservations. We were in and out with our multiple courses in less than an hour, with time to spare to head around the corner to Walt Pinot Noir for a bonus tasting. Highly recommend. And be on the lookout for Girl and the Fig products in marketplaces in the area. We snagged some preserves in the airport on the way out. Can’t wait to try them!

The Girl & The Fig – 110 West Spain Street, Sonoma – 707.933.3000
Reservations Available

I don’t mean to skip ahead (I will fill in the blanks) but I so enjoyed my meal at The Alembic that I just had to write this one next. Out of all of the meals, this one was a whim. I’d noted it as a great spot in the Haight for cocktails. I hadn’t made much of a note of anything to highlight as far as their food is concerned. Almost a big, big miss. We’d ridden along the periphery of the Haight in our bike ride through San Francisco and over across the Golden Gate Bridge and into Saulsalito, but we hadn’t really gone through the heart of the neighborhood. After doing brunch our final day in North Beach, we decided to wander through this area.

Alembic - The Haight

Alembic – The Haight

I really enjoyed checking out Ambiance as well as several of the vintage stores along Haight Street. In the process, we saw Cha Cha Cha in the distance and walked by the signage for The Alembic. We were intrigued by what we saw and liked the idea of the menu, so we decided to come back and hope to get in. When we arrived, there was a group of people assembled in the front – making it look crowded.

Perusing the menu with a side of seasoned popcorn

Perusing the menu with a side of seasoned popcorn

We were happy to find we could be seated right away. We were amused to look over and realize we recognized the bartender, Daniel Hyatt, from his wonderful whiskey drinks we had enjoyed at Cochon 555. When we saw his hands, we realized that was why he looked  familiar!

Duck Hearts - Alembic

Duck Hearts – Alembic

We decided to start with an order of their appetizer of duck hearts. Actually, it wasn’t an appetizer. It was in their even lighter menu section titled “snacks”. They were jerk spiced and prepared with pickled pineapple and thyme salt. I filed this under the category of adventurous eating while in San Fran and gave it a go. It was only $5 for 5 hearts. The flavor on it was great and I was surprised it had more of a charred than chewy consistency to it. The pineapple was an oddly perfect choice of accompaniment.

Carrot Soup: Dungeness Crab, Cauliflower Mousse, Coriander

Carrot Soup: Dungeness Crab, Cauliflower Mousse, Coriander

For the rest of the meal, we were drawn towards their prix fixe option – $35 for three courses. Great deal. Jaded by too many difficult restaurants in NYC, we figured sharing would be a no go. We figured there’s be some sort of surcharge, “extra plate” fees, or just an outright no. We were surprised when our server said “of course!”.

The soup was only slightly warm, perfect for summer (albeit a California one with temps in the 60s/maybe 70s). I really liked the addition of the cauliflower mousse rather than just some sort of cream. I liked the additional vegetal layer. The dungeness crab was sprinkled throughout and besides tasting nice and fresh, was a welcomed change in consistency from the liquid soup base.

Grilled Hanger Steak: Freekeh, Smoked Carrot, Date Puree, Grilled Chickpeas, Yogurt

Grilled Hanger Steak: Freekeh, Smoked Carrot, Date Puree, Grilled Chickpeas, Yogurt

There were so many layers to this dish that if you weren’t careful, you might miss some of the possible combinations. The cubes of steak were a tender medium bordering on medium rare. Depending on where you picked up a slice, it might come with a bit of the chickpeas or a bit of the yogurt, but you almost had to hunt down the date purée, which was a sharp sweet contrast to the meat. Each of the combinations would have made for a fantastic dish on their own, but I really liked being able to try a little of it all in one.

Root Beer: Vanilla Sponge, Wintergreen Cream, Ginger Gelee, Sassafras Ice Cream

Root Beer: Vanilla Sponge, Wintergreen Cream, Ginger Gelee, Sassafras Ice Cream

After reading the description of dessert, I think I assumed it would be some sort of float. Isn’t that what’s almost always done with root beer? The beautiful plate which came out was entirely unexpected. You could eat each element on its own, but when combined together the ending flavor was root beer! It was one of the most innovative desserts I’ve had. Nothing gimmicky. Just brilliant.

This was hands down my favorite meal out of our time in San Francisco and it was one of the few that wasn’t previously planned! One of the best meals – both in flavor and creativity – that I’ve had in a long time.

Alembic – 725 Haight Street (b/w Cole and Shrader), San Francisco – 415.666-0822
No Reservations

San Francisco takes it’s sandwiches seriously. Seriously, they do. After a wonderful day tasting wine in Sonoma, we decided since we were down at the Embarcadero, it would be easy to continue around to Fisherman’s Wharf to In-N-Out. Now I know burger enthusiasts might cringe at my placing burgers in a sandwich post, but I’m going to put them together as they were some of the best food we had that didn’t involve a more formal restaurant setting. Anyhow, I’d never been to an In-N-Out, but I’ve heard over and over how it is one of the west coast “must try” food spots. I prepared myself for that possible inevitable letdown about 80% of the time occurs with anything heavily hyped (sorry, this is where I file The Big Lebowski).

However, I have to say I found their burgers to be quite tasty. It helped that they were my style – of the thinner variety and with options to customize. I didn’t realize until we were in line that the key at In-N-Out is perusing their off-menu options. After the long day, my battery was low but I managed to pull up some sample off-menu options on my phone, such as this page. I went with a cheeseburger with the patty mustard fried and adding chopped chilis. Tasty! Purists might cringe, but I’d say the east coast’s Shake Shack might have a cousin on the other side of the US. Unlike many of the other food options Worth fighting through the crowds at the Wharf.

In-N-Out, Fisherman's Wharf

In-N-Out, Fisherman’s Wharf

During our trip to St. George Spirits, we were lucky enough to get to try out another local favorite – Ike’s Place. I understand it’s a San Francisco favorite that now has an Oakland spot as well. We had all sorts of options from which to choose – sandwiches with chicken and mozzarella sticks or chicken with jalapeno poppers. I understand they also have secret menus. Is this a San Francisco “thing”?

"Kryptonite" had one high promise...

“Kryptonite” had one high promise…

Tempting, but the winner had to be The Krytptonite which packed just about everything and the kitchen sink in between two pieces of bread. There was roast beef, corned beef, pastrami, salami, turkey, bacon, ham, mozzarella sticks, stuffed jalapeno poppers, beer battered onion rings, avocado, pesto, and extra pepper jack. Just. Wow. There’s a reason Anthony Bourdain gave this one a nod. We didn’t have to endure the wait I understand you will likely face when visiting, but if it helps, the sandwich is amazing – a meal and multiple sides, all in one!

"Kryptonite" Sandwich - Ike's Place

“Kryptonite” Sandwich – Ike’s Place

 Who has your “most favorite” sandwich?

Hope you all had a lovely 4th of July! I just got back from a trip to San Francisco filled with sunshine, some relief from the oppressive NYC heat, fabulous company and, of course, some great eats. We were surprised though to find so many places closed the day of the 4th. We walked over to Dynamo Donuts, which was either closed for the holiday or closed due to being out of donuts, as we learned is often the case. We found many stores closed in the Mission (as well as closed when we tried to go back again). We learned store hours are sometimes more goals than absolutes.

St Francis Fountain - The Mission, San Francisco

St Francis Fountain – The Mission, San Francisco

Anyhow, as we made our way back towards where we came from we came across St. Francis Fountain, a spot I’d noted more for ice cream than for food. However, I have to say the food didn’t disappoint. Solid diner style fair with a proper California flair. I had to go with the upside-down hog cakes, which were packed with bacon, cheddar, & green onion. You can get a stack of two or three. I recommend not being so ambitious as to go for three. I couldn’t finish my two! The salty sweet of the bacon/onion/cheese versus the maple syrup works well. Is there anything more American than bacon in pancakes?

Upside-Down Hog Cakes

Upside-Down Hog Cakes

Even better balanced when you add in a milkshake. I went with the espresso milkshake, which was a vanilla milkshake with a shot of espresso. So good. It seemed the perfect brunch option when you just couldn’t seem to pass up some sort of ice cream.

Espresso Milkshake

Espresso Milkshake

My boyfriend went with the Chef’s Mess, which was two eggs scrambled with homefries, bacon & mushrooms, topped with melted cheese, tomatoes, sour cream & green onions. Served with choice of toast or a baked good (he had the banana bread). Serious option. The food just kept coming! Serious quantity of potatoes here lurking underneath the surface. Worth checking out if you’re in the neighborhood. Solid sustenance for wandering a bit through the Mission.

Chef's Mess

Chef’s Mess

St. Francis Fountain – 2801 24th Street (at York) – 415.826.4200
No Reservations

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