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 !
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.