In the midst of the end-of-semester madness, Will and I were able to enjoy a brief respite with a weekend in San Francisco. We were there just last summer, and it was nice to return relatively quickly to this wonderful city since we remembered all the places we wanted to eat in again.
Last summer, after spending a few days in Napa Valley eating rich foods—with accompanying expensive restaurant bills—we were astounded to be reminded of how good, and how cheap!, Chinese food could be. Of course, we were in the right place for it since San Francisco’s Chinatown district is world famous, right up there with New York’s Chinatown. After dining at the likes of Girl and the Fig and Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc, Will and I found ourselves almost weeping with the discovery of the joys of salt and pepper fish and sauteed string beans with spicy ground pork.
This visit, I planned ahead. Having mapped out our hotel location in relation to the top Tripadvisor and Yelp Chinese restaurants (cross-referenced), we tried two places in Chinatown which received high marks—and which were not too outrageous a walk from our hotel off of Powell St. Hong Kong Clay Pot Restaurant offered up excellent Chicken Clay Pot with Mushroom and Chinese Sausage, and the clay pot being studded with gads of whole roasted garlic cloves was a nice surprise. The rest of the dishes, however, were greasier than we cared for. I suspect though that our choice of dishes might have been at fault since the table next to us had a plate of beautiful Chinese cabbage (also with those delicious roasted garlic cloves) that we coveted over our own rapidly congealing green bean dish.
The other Chinatown restaurant was definitely a find, and we are already planning to return. Z&Y Restaurant at 655 Jackson Street was bustling with people at 1:40 when we got there. We joined the cluster of people standing around at the register and hoped to get some recognition from the very busy staff. It wasn’t until another couple sauntered in and wrote their names on a notepad that we realized that there was a system to get recognized—just one we didn’t know about. Belatedly we put our name down after the other couple and slightly begrudged their earlier seating (though clearly they were not responsible for our own ignorance) when they got a table about 30 minutes later. We waited another 10 minutes before our growling stomachs could finally dream of food.
We are still praising ourselves for our clever combination of choices for our lunch. Rather than the usual Americanized Chinese restaurants that offer “Lunch Specials,” Z&Y—whose chef has actually cooked for President Obama, no less, according to their website—had us choose from their regular menu. We ordered an appetizer portion of Salt and Pepper Calamari (two pictures above); Scallion Pancakes with Beef (right above here--flavored with five spice, with the lovely addition of fresh julienned cucumber and a nice plum sauce); and Mabo Tofu with Ground Pork (pictured below--spicy, with faint but unexpected black bean addition). Something about the combination of fried seafood, spicy saucy tofu with meat, and fresh vegetables peeking out of scallion pancakes really hit the spot. Our stomachs quieted their grumbling and allowed us to enjoy our walk to the wharf, content and sated.
After our exploration of Fisherman’s Wharf with their numerous and vociferous sea lions, we walked back around the Washington Square area and stopped for hot drinks at Mario’s (Bohemian Cigar Store Café), a quaint coffee shop serving good espresso and a pleasant view of the park with its many well-behaved dogs enjoying themselves.
By this time, we had walked over 4 miles and spent several hours enjoying San Francisco which boasted better weather this December than it appeared to in June of last year. (It might really be true what Mark Twain said about how the coldest winter he experienced was the summer he spent in San Francisco.) As we wended our way back—it feels like we know San Francisco inside and out now—we decided to swing by The House, our favorite restaurant from our last trip.
The House (1230 Grant Ave.) offers Asian-fusion cuisine, and it is one of the more successful in appealing to both Asian and western tastebuds. When we called earlier, we couldn’t get a reservation for the weekend, but they suggested we might get a walk-in table if we came early. It turned out we got there at just the right time since we were able to snag a table before the rush.
Still somewhat full from lunch, we might not have been able to do justice to the restaurant, but their food was, as we remembered, innovative and tasty. We were particularly enamored of their Cream of Shitake Mushroom Soup with Truffle Oil. As you can see above, we were almost finished with their Charred Octopus Salad with Crispy Pork Skin (and lots of fresh julienned vegetables) before we remembered to take a picture of this unique dish. We weren’t too late though with their Wasabi Stir-Fried noodles with Grilled Flatiron Steak (cooked a wonderful medium rare and just nestled on top of the noodles).
With food this good, we will definitely return for some more San Francisco treats!