I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I travel to the States, I always seem to return with a suitcase twice as packed as when I left. So it comes as no surprise that my recent trip to the Golden State was no exception. This time, I returned armed with an arsenal of cookbooks, patisserie catalogues on the best bakeries in the Bay area as well as a flurry of bakeware and cooks’ tools I simply couldn’t resist to pick up on the way.
The city’s food scene is intricately woven into San Franciscans’ everyday life. The rich mosaic of cultures, its proximity to organic, farm-fresh and sustainable ingredients ensure there’s a myriad of ways to delight a gastronome’s senses. Local chefs are more like revolutionaries with Alice Waters leading the Slow Food Movement and Thomas Keller preaching the virtues of using fresh local produce. It was refreshing to see a community so adamant about using fresh, organic ingredients.
Though there are over 4,000 restaurants to choose from in SF, I just wanted to share with you some of the gems I uncovered on this trip.
Throughout San Francisco’s history, waves of immigrant communities arrived on its shores, bearing culinary secrets that have shaped the city’s food culture today. The French settlers for instance introduced the art of sourdough bread making. Today, Chad Robertson at Tartine Bakery in the Mission has preserved this longstanding tradition and is entirely devoted to artisanal bread making. A queue wraps around the café in the late afternoons, Wednesdays through to Sundays, when the loaves come out of the ovens. It is most certainly worth a visit, whether it be to indulge in a Valrhona chocolate brownie or a beautifully puffed almond croissant and walk over to Ritual Coffee or Four Barrel on Valencia to grab a coffee. A steady stream of locals keeps this café buzzing throughout the day. The video below reveals their all encompassing passion… nay, obsession for bread.
Breakie and Brunch
Ok, there’s nothing more that I love than a delicious start to the day… and SF has one of the best places for breakie and brunch – The Grove, on the corner of Chestnut Street and Avila. Mostly, it’s the people who come in on Saturdays, in their relaxed Cali attire and the entrepreneurial vibe that really made this place even more awesome. Sit back with a supersized freshly squeezed OJ whilst you ponder what dish to select from the menu. Whether you’re in the mood for French Toast topped with fresh strawberries and maple syrup, the most delicious plate of huevos rancheros, or breakfast burritos, The Grove is THE place to go. Trust me on this. It’ll seriously be hard to find another brunch place that could even come close to rivalling it.
Kara’s Cupcakes is a cute little bakery in the Marina district. I always enjoyed popping in haphazardly, only to find myself confronted with a hundred decisions and indecisions – should I try the carrot cupcake or the peanut butter and chocolate cupcake, or perhaps a chocolate velvet cupcake… the answer was of course all of them!!! The icing was so light and fluffy. In fact, the icing for the chocolate velvet had the texture of a mousse. You can select regular or mini sized cupcakes. It was seriously good but seriously dangerous as you run the risk of getting hooked!
Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese immigrant communities also made their mark in San Francisco’s food scene. In particular, chef and co-owner Charles Phan at The Slanted Door is focused on using organic ingredients to create the fresh and fragrant flavours of Vietnamese cuisine. What started off as a family-run restaurant has grown into an avant-garde restaurant. Located in the historic Ferry Building, it’s still the town’s hot dining destination. San Franciscan based architect Olle Lundberg’s custom designed the interior, inspired by the imposing Bay Bridge. Floor-to-wall glass walls offering diners a scintillating view of the Bay.
I absolutely loved the hustle and bustle at Italian restaurant and wine bar A16, revered for its delicious wood-fired pizzas and experienced sommeliers. Named after a highway that winds through Campania, the food is inspired from Southern Italy and the neighbouring towns of Napoli. It’s located on my favourite street in the residential neighbourhood of Marina (Chestnut Street biensur). Go for an early evening stroll around the shops and pop in for dinner (reservations are a must otherwise you might be stuck waiting for 1h30!).
Go to Nopalito – dig into traditional Mexican food with an organic twist! While there are so many Mexican taquerias scattered around the Mission, Nopalito will leave you wanting to come back for more. This hip restaurant is great for an afternoon bite to take in a bit of the chilled Cali vibe or a casual dinner. Organic Almond Horchata was deeply infused with cinnamon and the hibiscus water was refreshing after a long walk about the city. My favourite dish there was the beef empanadas – so fragrant and spicy, enveloped in a golden pastry… mmmmmmh! The handmade corn tortillas were amazingly dense and perfect to scoop up left over chicken mole. Really a must.
In a nutshell, San Fran’s food scene offers diners such a diverse range of cuisines that will satisfy just about any foodie’s cravings. Just let yourself indulge in pastries, cupcakes, third wave coffee and amazing food from all over the world…. and walk it off by climbing up and down SF’s hills!