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 !
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.