Friday, October 7, 2011

One Week in SF:

Of Restaurants Running Out of Food AND Revisiting Old Friends

One would think that when the weather men had been predicting sun and high temps for San Francisco for over a week, proprietors of restaurants known for patios that crowd under blue skies would plan accordingly and order extra food. At least, that is what one would think.

Market Bar at the Ferry Building, one of San Francisco’s few dining destinations known for its large outdoor patio seemed to have been caught unawares by this temperate weather and the throngs of people that came with it. Or so it seemed when John and I arrived for our dinner reservation only to be told by a surly host that we were “just in time” they had almost run out of food.

At first we thought this was a joke. No sadly, no joke at all. The waiter informed us that they were out of 90% of their entrée options including main course salads and sandwiches. As for the lengthy appetizer list, out of about 50% of that as well. He did not attempt to stop us, or apologize, when we got up and left.

It was all for the best, however, because RN74, Michael Mina’s Financial District tavern, welcomed us with open arms. We perched up at the bar, by then relatively quiet after the departure of the after-work crowd. We nibbled on greaseless and airy tempura maitake mushrooms dusted in yuzu salt and tangled with ribbons of fried green onions. Although the Pastrami-cured salmon was nothing extraordinary, it was still a fine silken example of the tartare genre. For entrees I went to the starter section for manila clams that were livened up with some pork belly and an addictive broth rich in brininess and unctuous pork fat, perfect for sopping up with a basket of sourdough bread. Even the chicken, a standard boneless breast, avoided the pitfalls of banality with a fall hash of sweet corn, carrots and sweet potatoes served with a garnish of confit chicken leg-stuffed egg roll.

As the week rolled on I took up some lighter lunch-time meals around town. Fancy Mexican food at the strangely named Mexico DF proved that attractive lighting and good salsa can score points, but nothing beats tacos served down and dirty on a Formica table, under harsh fluorescent lights, at the local taqueria. One of organic restaurant chain The Plant’s newest locations in the Marina served out a veggie burger for even a meat eater to love. Although, I’m pretty sure my California Plant Burger- a lentil patty with jack cheese and avocado- would have tasted even better if it came topped with bacon. But it was Starbelly in the Castro that really won me over with their weekend brunch. Thin crust pizzas, salads fill

ed with tender greens, and a BLT with end of summer heirloom tomatoes had me ordering lunch while breakfast was still in full swing.

To cap off the week I checked out two joints in the Marina, one a pioneer on the fine dining scene in that neighborhood, the other a more recent addition. Sitting at the chef’s table at A16, my first visit since the departure of chef Liza Shaw, one shared Bianca pizza and Maccaronara pasta with ragu Napoletana and a packed bar was enough to conclude new chef David Taylor is living up to the high quality Italian food legacy of his predecessors. A few blocks uphill on Union, Café des Amis has brought a bit of sophistication to the predominantly casual dining scene of the neighborhood. Elegant atmosphere, finely mixed classic cocktails (like my Corpse Reviver #2), and a selection of French bistro classics such as steak tartare and steak frites are a rarity in the area. Just the sort of place for a quiet Monday night dinner with my grandfather, or an intimate weekday date like many people around us appeared to be having.

San Francisco is a like an old friend, if our encounters are not always fresh and exciting, at least they are comfortable and reliably good. Even the new spots that work, like Café des Amis, work because it makes me feel like as though it has been there forever. Same as it ever was can be a delicious thing indeed.

Market Bar, 1 Ferry Building

RN74, 301 Mission St.

Mexico DF, 139 Steuart St.

The Plant, multiple locations

Starbelly, 3583 16th St.

A16, 2355 Chestnut St.

Café des Amis, 2000 Union St.

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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