If You’re Going To San Francisco: 8 Great Meals To Inspire You

2013-05-California-033 BLOG

Greetings from enchanting San Francisco!

I’m beyond thrilled to be here for the CERES conference, which is a prestigious event bringing together sustainability-minded businesspeople. It’s attended by influential minds from gigantic companies like Coke, Google and Disney – and also, it would seem, by me. It’s been endlessly educational and really actually quite inspiring, and I’ve met a slew of truly fascinating people doing amazing, game-changing things.

An added bonus of the trip was having Riccardo join me! Actually, he met me in the SF airport having come from Vegas, where he enjoyed (endured?) an apparently grueling weekend of surprise bachelor debauchery. I missed him tremendously while he was away and couldn’t wait to reunite with him at the baggage claim. Finally, his familiar silhouette came into view, and I ran towards him at top speed! He was happy to see me too, but seemed a little worse for wear – dark circles under his eyes, various unidentified bruises, and the faint aroma of gin emanating from his very pores. His buddies certainly succeeded in sending him off into married life properly!

Anyway – this week, San Francisco has been breezy but unseasonably warm (you won’t hear any complaints from me). The climate is generally well-suited to the disproportionate number of vagrants and nomads – I wasn’t expecting to see so much abject poverty, which was a big rude awakening. A feeling of relentless hustle hangs in the air, and troubling disparities between rich and poor are everywhere. The hills are intense! One of the best decisions of my life – after agreeing to marry Riccardo, of course – was bringing flat shoes to San Francisco. I should have remembered about the town’s unusual geography, having watched Full House more times than I care to admit in the early 90s, but I digress…

Streets are steeper than they appear

Streets are steeper than they appear

Naturally, I was excited about the food. SFO is such a mecca for stuff we just don’t have much of in Montreal – seafood, complex Asian flavours, cheap and dirty Mexican. I’m going to summarize our brief time in the city (just three days) with a neat little list of my favourite dining experiences here.

1) A hearty bowl of old-school cioppino at Tadich Grill

Cioppino, a San Francisco specialty of vaguely Italian descent, is a tomato-based stew jam-packed with the day’s seafood catch. It’s dutifully listed on many a San Fran menu and there’s even a famous touristy restaurant named for the dish, but the version we tried at a classy joint called the Tadich Grill made us instant believers. This place first opened as a coffee stand during the Gold Rush! The GOLD RUSH!! Essentials for enojying cioppino at the Tadich: a plastic bib, a slice of charred, crusty bread, and a wise-cracking, white-coated veteran waiter with a nagging wife to get home to.

2) A sumptuous Thai feast at tiny, nondescript restaurant with yellow walls

The flavours brought back fond memories of our first night in Bangkok – scallops, shrimp, impossibly fresh vegetables, and bright herbs. A BBQ duck salad with mint was superb. It’s a sad fact of life in Montreal that great Thai food is just not available (I know, Chao Phraya is pretty good, but it’s not the saaame). Afterwards I dashed off to the opening cocktail of the conference where, unbeknownst to me, a monumental vegetarian banquet was being served – I, however, was satisfied with my simple but delicious Thai dinner.

No photo of the Thai feast, but here's a street that's kind of nearby. I walked up this street (much longer than shown) every morning. True story.

No photo of the Thai feast, but here’s a street that’s kind of nearby. I walked up this street (much longer than shown) every morning. True story.

3) Breakfast made with love at Home Plate

On the first day of the conference, I gave myself permission to skip the standard-issue American breakfast. Instead, Riccardo and I hopped on a bus through Chinatown to the Marina district as he wanted me to experience the best breakfast he’s ever had at a little spot called Home Plate. It would have been worth the trek solely on the basis of the scones and homemade jelly that appeared on the table as we sat, but the entire meal was spot-on. (You’ll be pleased to know I arrived back at the conference venue just in time for the first session.)

Welcome home.

Welcome home.

4) Succulent tacos at Pancho Villa

After a highly stimulating programme of workshops, seminars and networking, I was ready for another epic meal. Riccardo was raring to go too, having spent the entire (gorgeous, sunny, HOT) day in our room working. We’d heard that something approaching taco greatness could be found in the Mission – so off we went (we’d by now decided to just rent a car). Our source was not mistaken. Afterwards, we lay down in the grass in Dolores Park listening to the faraway sounds of the drum circles and politely refusing drugs from barefoot beatniks.

Pancho Villa and a few of their many admirers.

Pancho Villa and a few of their many admirers.

Carne asada. Mmm.

Carne asada. Mmm.

Dolores Park.

Dolores Park.

5) Oyster stew and clam chowder overlooking the Bay at Hog Island Oysters

We walked down to Pier 1 and came across Hog Island Oysters, a beautiful seaside spot with a fresh, open feel. Tragically, they were all out of fresh, local oysters – the only ones remaining were imported (!), or had been turned into oyster stew. This was fine with me!

Vastly different - in a good way - from my beloved New England clam chowder.

Vastly different – in a good way – from my beloved New England clam chowder.

6) An inspired medley of flavours at the Slanted Door

After the oyster stew and a couple of glasses of wine at Hog Island, we continued our stroll along the boardwalk and soon came across the Slanted Door. It was prime dinnertime and they didn’t have space, so we reserved for a couple of hours later and set off in search of a bottle of wine to keep us occupied til then. Our quest led us to stunning views of Alcatraz, the maddening bustle of Ghirardelli Square, and the pier housing San Francisco’s famed sea lions. Eventually, we came upon a wine shop. Having persuaded the kindly clerk to open the bottle and hook us up with some plastic cups, we settled onto a bench and watched the sun set over the Bay. Soon enough, it was time to head to the Slanted Door. Everything looked awesome so we went a little nuts – each plate was exquisitely presented and thoughtfully composed, and the spare ribs caused Riccardo to forget his name. Like Nicolette Sheridan was for John Cusack in 1985, the Slanted Door was a Sure Thing – for us, as well as for the young, nervous couple on a first date at the next table.

We don't take photos in serious restaurants, but here's one of us on the bench.

We don’t take photos in serious restaurants, but here’s one of us on the bench.

7) Surf n’ turf San Fran style at Hog & Rocks in the Mission

“Rocks” refer to oysters! And “hog”, of course, needs no explanation. We shared a healthy measure of both during a meal here with a friend of Riccardo’s and her partner. Jessica has lived in this wacky town for 10 years and gave some fascinating insights into the intricacies of San Francisco living – the proliferating homelessness, the skyrocketing prices – and despite all that, the bewildering willingness of many hopeful souls to pay top dollar for the services of a psychic. The atmosphere was lively and the music was cool, but the food blew us away – especially the deviled eggs, salt-roasted beets with smoked chocolate, and roasted pork with heirloom grits.

Gorgeous depiction of the restaurant's namesakes

Gorgeous depiction of the restaurant’s namesakes

8) Beer and popcorn outside a grocery store in Haight-Ashbury

While perhaps not technically a meal, this dining experience was fun because of the fascinating stream of freaks and wanderers drifting past on Haight Street, and the humbling realization that Jimi Hendrix’s infamous “Red House” was directly above us. While poking around a shop looking for a beer opener, we found a postcard listing the addresses of other celebrated musicians of the late 60s. There was the unassuming row house where Jefferson Airplane reportedly set up shop, the rundown former home of the late, great Janis Joplin, and the pied-a-terre of several members of the Grateful Dead. We took a drive around the neighbourhood and spotted them all, imagining how this somewhat faded neighbourhood must have felt like during its heyday in the Summer of Love.

The Haight Street Market, with Jimi Hendrix's Red House in the background.

The Haight Street Market, with Jimi Hendrix’s Red House in the background.

Here are a few bonus parting shots:

Getting picked up after the conference.

Getting picked up after the conference.

Love in an elevator, at the Orchard Hotel.

Love in an elevator, at the Orchard Hotel.

Biggest racket going in San Fran: the streetcar. 4 blocks cost about $6 each. But, they ARE historically significant...

Biggest racket going in San Fran: the cable car. 4 blocks cost about $6 each. But, they ARE historically significant…

...as we discovered at the Cable Car Museum.

…as we discovered at the Cable Car Museum.

The sea lions started chilling on this dock in September 1989, and have been ever since.

The sea lions started chilling at Pier 39 in September 1989, and have been ever since.

I noticed a lot of businesses with hopeful names like this one. I think it's a west coast thing.

I noticed a lot of businesses with hopeful names like this one. I think it’s a west coast thing.

Me, our trusty vehicle, and a unicycle - in the Mission.

Me, our trusty vehicle, and a unicycle – in the Mission.

Riccardo geeking out in Japan Town

Riccardo geeking out in Japan Town

David Copperfield said I look magical.

On a dressing room door. David Copperfield said I look magical.

A truly terrible photo of iconic Lombard Street, the most most crooked (and difficult to photograph) street on earth.

A truly terrible photo of iconic Lombard Street, the most most crooked (and difficult to photograph) street on earth.

Bonus musical selection – essential:

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2 thoughts on “If You’re Going To San Francisco: 8 Great Meals To Inspire You

  1. Great blog, Carolyn! San Francisco is defintely an amazing city, even with the frequent minor earthquakes. Will have to check out these places on our next trip. One of my favorite songs by Scott McKenzie.

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