A Taste of San Francisco

When it comes to dining out in San Francisco, you may have noticed that I have a few favorites and tend to wind up at the same ones each time. Which is silly, considering all the outstanding restaurants the city has to offer. To get out of my rut, I organized a walking/eating tour of SF that took place last Saturday with a few friends. The goal was to try all new (to me) places. I thought we’d start at the Ferry Building and work our way along the Embarcadero to Pier 39 and Ghiradelli Square, up through North Beach and Chinatown via Colombus Ave and Stockton, and end at Union Square for dinner.

{Our route – approximately 4 miles}

We had a few pre-determined spots we had in mind along the way, but it was one of those, “if we get there, we get there; if we don’t, we don’t” itineraries that helped make the day that much more relaxing and enjoyable!

Sarah and I barted in from San Bruno (free parking + $3.90 each way pp = score!) and met Emily at the Ferry Building around noon. There, we explored the delicious and colorful culinary delights offered at the farmer’s market and Ferry Building.

Ferry Building at The Embarcadero

Emily and Sarah each made lunch out of delicious-looking plates of Chorizo & Eggs. When the crab cake sandwiches I’d been eyeing sold out (you snooze you lose!), I settled on some fresh squeezed beet, ginger, and carrot juice from a raw, organic stand (delicious! $5) and Vietnamese Spring Rolls (great! $8) from Out the Door by Slanted Door. The crab cake sandwich selling out was probably for the best considering the amount of eating I had ahead of me……….

TCHO at The Embarcadero

Along the Embarcadero, Emily spotted a sign for a chocolate tasting we stopped in to sample. It was the perfect little bittersweet bite I was looking for. And it was free! They’ve also got coffee and espresso if you’re looking for some caffeine and want something different from the usual Starbucks.

Swiss Louis at Pier 39

At Pier 39, we made an unscheduled pitstop at Swiss Louis for a ‘San Francisco Iced Tea’ and Bloody Mary. While the flavor was just how I like my blood mary — spicy!! –, the tomato ‘juice’ was a bit too thick for my liking. Despite, Happy Hour at 2p on a Saturday was a great find with $5 well drinks.

Tanguito behind Ghiradelli Square

Just behind Ghiradelli Square, Sarah is credited with introducing us to Tanguito and the tastiest Argentinian Empanadas imaginable. They’re so good, I believe her when she says they’re better than the ones she had while in Argentina over New Years. These guys are served up from a stationary food truck for about $4 a pop. The spinach and cheese was my absolute favorite. The flavor is dee-vine. We also tried a grilled chicken one that was a little on the dry side, but when I mixed mine with bites of the spinach and cheese one, I was in Heaven. Someone at a neighboring table (who came all the way from East Bay just to eat here!) ordered a burger that I definitely need to sink my teeth into next time. At another table a guy had a good half dozen entrees on his table for one and they kept coming out with more. Turns out, he lived nearby and was such a fan of the food, he volunteered to professionally photograph all the plates for new signage as a favor!

Gelateria Naia and Panta Rei in North Beach

Ghiradelli was crawling with shoulder-to-shoulder tourists, so we avoided that mess and headed up Colombus Ave to North Beach with a mission. Anticipating that we’d be walking through the Italian District, I’d Googled and Yelped “Best Gelato North Beach San Francisco” and kept seeing goof things about Gelateria Naia. The verdict? It was rather disappointing. I usually love stracciatella, but this version was rather bland. While the mango had better flavor, the consistency for both just wasn’t on point. Between the 3 of us, we had 6 flavors and we all pretty much came to the same conclusion. Oh well, can’t win them all. And, it gives us something to come back and look for when we do round 2 in a few months!

We decided the natural cure for disappointing gelato were bellinis. Lucky for us, we came upon another happy hour about a block up, this one boasting $3 Bellinis and $5 Sangrias at Panta Rei, a charming modern Italian bistro. The guys around the bar were speaking Italian and I like how the seating areas seemed to spill out onto the sidewalk due to the large open windows and sidewalk seating. Perfect for people watching……

{Only in SF.}

This guy was actually a straggler in a pack of approximately 30 nekkid cyclists that rode by….. Ha! I sure hope those bikes weren’t rented from the bike rental shop we passed on our walk….!

Chinatown

On our way to do a bit of impromptu shopping in Union Square, we took in the sites of Chinatown. No bites this time, but I would like to try some Shanghai Dumplings next time.

Cantina in Union Square

After Sarah picked up a beauty of a handbag at Neiman Marcus (I behaved and didn’t buy a thing!), Emily introduced us to one of her go-to happy hour spots in Union Square. Cantina is a well-stocked bar/lounge with a cozy neighborhood feel, a really delightful find right off Union Square. Despite the less than ideal lounge seating located in the back (hard wooden seating + not enough light to even read the drink menu), with a little patience and staking out, we managed to nab some of the best seats at the bar. Albeit, the bartenders could use a small hospitality check, the drinks themselves would keep me coming back. They are outstanding and imaginative, made with all natural fresh ingredients. We enjoyed:

  • pisco punch. pisco, crushed pineapple, fresh-squeezed citrus, angostura bitters & secret sauce. $7 @ Happy Hour
  • blackberry & cabernet caipirinha. cabana cachaça, muddled limes & driscoll farm blackberries, carlos basso cabernet. $7 @ Happy Hour.
  • laughing buddha. hangar one buddha’s hand citron vodka, lime, crushed ginger & serrano chiles, ginger brew. $9
  • bee’s knees #3. 42 below honey-infused vodka, fresh lemon & benedictine, agave nectar, housemade cinnamon & citron bitters
The bee’s knees and laughing buddha were my faves! The LB had a spicy kick to it and BK was sweet and smooth… like honey! This is the one place out of all the stops where I thought to myself, “Shaun would like this! I need to bring him back here.”

First Crush Wine Bar, Restaurant, and Lounge in Union Square



It just so happened that our tasting tour coincided with Dine About Town San Francisco

San Francisco’s 11th Dine About Town returns June 1-15, 2012. Enjoy 2-course prix fixe lunch for $17.95 or 3-course dinner for $34.95. Dates and time of participation vary by restaurant.

Therefore, we decided to take advantage of the budget-friendlier prices and check out First Crush, a popular restaurant and wine bar in Union Square. In addition to a cucumber gimlet, I sampled

  • Fritto Misto – a fried calamari salad which was excellent
  • Gnocchi – not a huge fan but Emily and Kristin liked theirs
  • Watermelon-Tomato Salad which was delicious and inspired me to make Gina’s again. (Recipe here.)
  • Pork Chop – good flavor but needs some garlic mashed potatoes or sort of starch
  • Pesto Alfredo Pasta – Yum but rich
  • Creme Brulee – Meh, I’ve had better
  • Bread Pudding – I enjoyed the caramel flavor and the fact that it was served a la mode

While everyone truly enjoyed what they ordered and no doubt about it, the food is good, there is a general consensus that it isn’t anything spectacular that any of us would return for. Especially not at the regular prices which are on par with many restaurants that we like far better. Plus, despite our 7:45p reservations and arriving right on time, we weren’t seated until close to 8:20.

That being said, overall the day was an absolute blast! I even managed to stay within my budget: I started the day with $98 cash on me and stuck to that amount. Well, thanks to Sarah and Emily who picked up a drink here and there. :) I also spent a tad more since I charged my Bart fare. Anyways, maybe that will be a fun challenge, trying to keep these trips under $100. I am definitely already looking forward to Round 2! Any recommendations?! So far for next time I’ve got-

  • Mussels at Plouf Belden Alley
  • After Osha
  • Kokkari
  • Cafe BaoNecci
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