travel: america’s left bank…

Murray Circle, Fort Baker, Sausalito, California

Do people on the West Coast live longer than those on the East Coast?

In five days and over the course of seven meals (four of which were tasting menus), foie gras only showed up once.  Seafood outnumbered the hoofed and fowl.  And vegetation of countless shapes, sizes, and colours dominated every plate (I’m purposely ignoring the cream and butter involved).

Did I mention that I climbed more mountains than the Mother Abbess in Sound of Music?  Being from the Shire, this little Hobbit got his work out on the challenging contours of the city.  Thankfully, the sky was overcast, with heavy fog in the mornings and evenings, making walking not only a pleasant sport, but a rather brisk one.

To me, this was paradise. Why had I stayed away so long?

H. Dana Bowers Point, Marin County, California (2009)

* * * * *

The last time I ate within a Dungeness crab’s crawl to the Pacific was in 2006.  Since, I’ve been spending most of my time eating east of the Mississippi.  I need re-evaluate my priorities.

As if I haven’t already been sleep-deficient and tummy-tied for the past few months from my eating sprees afield, I polished off yet another one, this time, catching only a few hour-long winks here and there.  Here are the places that got me up early and kept me up late (CLICK for the review):

Aqua
coi
Manresa
Murray Circle
Quince
SPQR
ubuntu

A couple of these meals were so great that I might have to bump them up in the (long) queue of reviews I owe you faithful ulterior epicure readers.   I can’t wait to tell you about those experiences. Watch for them, with a measure of patience in hand.

Bi-Rite Creamery
Bi-Rite Creamery
San Francisco, California

Because I’m a Hafling, there were quite a few mid-meal tucks as well.  The “Secret Breakfast” ice cream (CLICK to discover) made Humphry Slocombe worth visiting.  Though their case was populated by interesting flavors (like an amiable Caramel Balsamic ice cream, and very good Oolong Tea ice cream), some of them were a bit flat-footed.  Citrus ran roughshod over the mildly flavored McEvoy Olive Oil Ice Cream (I’m heading home to make a batch of Batali’s olive oil gelato right away).  Strawberry-Black Olive ice cream was all strawberry and very little black olive.  And the Vanilla ice cream was middling, tired on flavor and icy on the texture; the one at Bi-Rite Creamery was much better.

Actually, everything I tried at Bi-Rite was much better.  The Salted Caramel ice cream there alone warranted a pilgrimage.  The Toasted Coconut and Roasted Banana Ice creams were also wonderful, as was the Honey Lavender ice cream I tried.

Fiddlehead Ferns & Ramps
Fiddleheads and Ramps, Ferry Building
San Francisco, California

There were also pastries involved.  I was urged to go to La Boulange to try their cannelé. Verdict:  The crust was nicely burnished with a dark, caramel flavor, and the interior exhibited textbook creaminess.  But they were a tad too sweet and disappointingly soft.  Where’s the crunch, love?  I also picked up some macarons.  Verdict: The texture of the meringues were smooth and generally very good.  Fillings ranged from sickly sweet (caramel) to decent (cassis).  I’ll even concede that the coffee macaron was good.

Blue Bottle Coffee Co.
Blue Bottle Coffee Co., Ferry Building
San Francisco, California

I tried continuing the pastry party at the Ferry Building, where I was urged to try the cannelé at Boulette’s Larder.  Cannelé though they may have (though not that day – they were sold out and closing as we arrived), the savory smells are what struck me first and most about this tiny eatery.

But, I didn’t leave the Ferry Building unsatisfied. After window-shopping around tourist-level pricetags, as a decaf-drinker, I was thrilled to find an excellent cup of drip decaf coffee at the Blue Bottle Coffee Co.  As a cross comparison, I also tried the decaf (espresso) at Haus (a newish cafe in the Mission), which exclusively carries Ritual coffee.  It was good.  But Blue Bottle was better.

I send out a hearty thanks to all of the chefs and friends who have helped me eat well in the Bay Area.  I’ll be back.  The West Coast may be America’s Left Bank, but it certainly is not a forgotten one.

~ by ulterior epicure on May 28, 2009.

2 Responses to “travel: america’s left bank…”

  1. blue bottle vs ritual – bi rite vs humphrey – lots of decisions out here. for some reason, bi rite no longer advertises their ginger ice cream – you have to ask for it – but that’s the best of the bay. curious to read your ubuntu, manresa, coi, & quince reviews; and i’ll be surprised if aqua or murray circle were worth the trip.

  2. @ chuck: Now that I’ve compared them, there really won’t be any decisions in the future: blue bottle over Ritual, Bi-Rite over Humphry Slocombe. I will push these review through as quickly as I can.

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