I love making lists. It’s a sure bet that at any given moment there will be to-do lists in my jean pockets, grocery lists scrawled on napkins by the sink, or post-its with songs I want to download or books I want to check out splayed across my desk. But this one was hard. In fact, I lost sleep over it, arguing with myself about how I could include Saigon Sandwiches but not, say, Nettie’s Crab Shack (which is a wonderful lunch spot in the Marina, by the way). But ultimately, I reasoned, this is my list. It’s not Zagat’s list, it’s not my old coworker’s list. It’s born from my experiences and love affair with a select few places I either discovered or heard about.
I got nervous positing this for many reasons: what if it changes? What if, in three months, I disagree with my rankings (yes, I’m a first child and a Capricorn–type-A and anxious)? But ultimately I decided to post such a list because people are always asking me where to go in the city, and I have a few new food blogger friends attending the upcoming BlogHer conference and thought they might appreciate some suggestions. So take them for what they are. It’s not the list I’d give to the Prime Minister, but it’s a ‘down and dirty,’ my kind of places list. If you hit them up, let me know what you think.
1. Ritual Coffee If you don’t live here or you haven’t heard, there is an ongoing debate about who has the best coffee: Ritual or Blue Bottle. In my mind, both are outstanding. You can’t go wrong with either. Blue Bottle’s shops have a clean, modern aesthetic while Ritual’s a little bit grungy. And nothing I like more than a grungy coffee shop. Ritual reminds me of Diesel Cafe in Somerville, MA (outside of Boston) where I’d go when I was in graduate school and study for hours, filling up on free refills and taking study breaks to people watch.
2.Mission Pie I’m actually much more of a cake person than a pie person, so it surprises me that Mission Pie found its way onto this list. But lately I’m into rustic fruit desserts and this is such a sweet spot on a busy corner in the Mission. They’re uber-community oriented, sourcing their produce from local farms and hiring at-risk youth in an effort to work on job skills and empowerment in the workplace. And they make a mean banana cream pie, a soul-satisfying walnut pie, and a delicious (albeit seasonal) lemon pie.
3. Saigon Sandwiches
I might’ve already mentioned I was a vegetarian for a good fifteen or so years of my life. So although I jumped into the meat-eating world with gusto, I’m still a little cautious about where my meat comes from. Well, you have to ditch that when you head over to Saigon sandwiches because it’s my guess that, for $3 a sandwich, it’s not organic. But they’re delightfully authentic with the crusty Vietnamese baguette, pickled carrots and daikon, and special mayonnaise spread. It’s just a small sandwich counter without any seating; there will be a line and they ask you to holler out what you’d like before you’re even inside and can really see the menu. So you just kind of go with what your neighbors call out (or, if you take it from me, you get the pork).
4. Kitchenette This lunch window serves “spontaneous, organic nourishment” out of a loading dock in the Dogpatch neighborhood during lunch-time. You have to seek it out which is surely part of the fun. The food is fresh and creative, changes daily, and is 100% organic. They offer 1-2 sandwiches, a salad, a housemade beverage, and a “cookie of the moment.” I just took an internship relatively close by and am ecstatic that I’ll have the chance to cruise over on a more regular basis.
5. Firefly If someone asks me where to get a good, solid meal in San Francisco I would steer them to Firefly. It’s New American, they do fish beautifully and have exquisite side dishes to bring out the flavors of each main entree. Everything is seasonal, they have the most exciting dessert menu in the city (that’s saying a lot coming from me). The service is attentive but not fussy, and it’s just the kind of place you want to introduce people to.
6. The Alembic
Old-school cocktails on Haight St. Enough said. Remember when coffeehouses first started taking themselves really seriously with latte art and artisan espresso drinks? That’s what the Alembic’s doing with cocktails. So ya, the bartenders are a little smug and the drinks aren’t cheap. But if you appreciate strong vintage cocktails, you won’t mind paying the price. Great whiskey selection, a perfect Old Fashioned, Sazerac, or a Pisco Sour. The Alembic also serves lunch and dinner and the food’s supposed to be great–I just always seem to land (and stay) at the bar.
7. Humphry Slocombe Secret Breakfast, black sesame, salt and pepper, Jesus Juice. Yes, these are ice cream flavors. And this is my favorite place to get a cone. They have wacky combinations, but they all work. Trust me. The black sesame is some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had: super premium, super vanilla-y with specks of black toasted sesame (not the best date ice cream for that reason). I love that the owner has ice cream cone tattoos. That’s dedication.
8. Magnolia Gastropub
Porter and people watching. That’s what this place is good for. A lot of folks like Magnolia for brunch, but I tend to gravitate over here when I want a nice cold weather dinner. It’s good hunkering down food. They make their own beer, have a solid house burger, excellent fried chicken and mashed potatoes, and numerous other rotating items (pork nuggets are on my to-do list).
9. Flour + Water I wrote a lengthy review of Flour + Water for the SF Examiner. It really blew me away when I first ate here. And now, I find myself reaching for words, probably because I’ve said it all before. But this is, hands down, the best pizza in the city. I’ll debate it with anyone. Neapolitan-style, super thin, fresh simple ingredients. Impeccable service. They also have really nice pasta dishes and a stellar wine list (and funky objects scattered about–sounds weird, but check out the bathroom. Trust me).
10. Thep Phanom Authentic Thai food in the lower Haight. They do eggplant phenomenally well (tough to pull off), make a great spicy red curry, and awesome appetizers (my favorite is the koo gut: crispy yam and taro root served with peanut sauce). It gets pretty crowded on the weekends so bring a chatty dinner partner or two to keep you entertained during the wait. New site up to help customers order online !
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.