I found myself in San Francisco this past Wednesday. Here’s a rundown of the culinary highlights. Since I don’t believe in comparing apples to oranges (so to speak), I’m not ranking anything. No need to count down—just take all five!
The veggie roll at Domo, 511 Laguna Street, Hayes Valley
Even though I’m not a vegetarian, I often order vegetarian sushi for some reason. The shiso leaf and daikon sprouts were a refreshing counterpoint to the avocado. The happiest surprise was that the asparagus and shiitake mushrooms were fried in tempura batter. No sushi bar has ever slipped stealth tempura into a standard veggie roll in my previous experience, so I was grateful. The hearty fried items and the relatively generous size make the $7 roll a bargain in that notoriously pricey city.
The dark chocolate, caramel, and passion fruit mini cube cake at Craftsman and Wolves, 540 Valencia Street, the Mission
William Werner’s bakery has become one of my favorite spots in the city, and I can never resist the cube cakes when I go there. Passion fruit curd is a wonderful condiment (I’ve been known to make some myself when I can find any puree), and Werner’s is exceptionally flavorful. In fact, his is flavorful to the point that it overpowers the caramel and chocolate somewhat, but I enjoyed the combination anyway. The cube cake is also beautifully composed; who wouldn’t be charmed by the tiny madeleine on top?
Essays “By The Book” and “Not A Dinner Party” from Julian Barnes’ The Pedant In The Kitchen
I can hear the Muppety cry of “Essays! But you can’t EAT those!” now. (Actually, if you’re Cookie Monster, you can, but that’s for another post entirely.) I read a library copy of this slim but thought-provoking volume during my trip, and found it the perfect accompaniment to snacking. Barnes tends to be more neurotic about cooking than most people are, but these pieces on (respectively) the joys and hazards of cookbook collecting and dinner guests struck a chord with me.
The mint tagliatelle at Delfina, 3611 18th Street in the Mission
The wild nettles are the secret weapon here…imagine spinach, but with finer texture and more oomph. (La Posta on Seabright in Santa Cruz introduced me to the wonder of wild nettles a couple of years ago. Coincidentally, it and Delfina are two of the only places where I will order pasta with enthusiasm.) Add mint and chanterelles, and the dish becomes a completely unexpected combination that works beautifully.
The Russian honey cake (aka the Krasinski torte) at 20th Century Cafe, 198 Gough Street, Hayes Valley
Original Delfina pastry chef Michelle Polzine is one of my baking heroes, so I assumed I would love her restaurant when I first read about it months ago. I admit that I wasn’t sure I would love the honey cake as much as the reviews promised, given that it contains many layers of honey buttercream. (I bake quite often, but stay far away from buttercream, finding it complicated and cloying with most cakes.) I lifted my fork, fully expecting the cake to be too sweet and too rich. How wondrously mistaken I was! Now I jones for a slice when I’m anywhere near the city limits. (On this trip, my slice was procured for me by Polzine herself. She was very gracious as I stumbled through my fangirl moment.)