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 !
Healthy Comfort Food
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.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)