Tag Archives: San Francisco

My 2014 Favourites!

The time of year has come where we make lists of our favourite things, for me as a so-called food blogger, it’s time for me to look back at some of the memorable eating experiences I’ve had. So with that in mind I’ve scoured the last year and picked out my favourites.

These aren’t in any particular order by the way:

1. The Man Behind The Curtain – whether Leeds’ food and drink scene is heading towards a Michelin star is debatable, the execution of the food and the service here are second to none and deserves to have praise heaped on it. The food is innovative, aesthetically beautiful and exquisite to boot.

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Part of the degustation menu

2. NOM Deli: one of the things I enjoy about food blogging is meeting people. I’m not the most out-going person, but this has brought me out of my shell more, and talking to like-minded individuals who base their work around the love of food is very inspiring. So when meeting the team from NOM Deli that’s what happened, they love the food from their native homeland and are serving their take on Banh Mi, bun and pho in Leeds city centre. I remember vividly trying the Banh Mi at Kirkstall Deli Market and being completely blown away by it! I’m definitely hoping to visit them again, to try out their Friday evening menu in the new year! Fancy reading about my experience at NOM, click here.

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Banh Mi with BBQ pork

3. Stuzzi – this is another one of those wonderful combinations of brilliant food produced by the most passionate of people! I know I’ve recently written about this team, but what the hell because I adore their Italian food and their infectious love for their cuisine! Both of my Stuzzi experiences at the Belgrave Music Hall residency and at their new home in Harrogate have been memorable. To read about my Stuzzi encounters click here.

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Stuzzichini sharing box

4. Tartine Bakery, San Francisco – this summer I spent seven days exploring the city to the fullest. If I was to choose one from the many amazing eats we had on that trip, for me it would have to be the afternoon we spent in the Mission District, firstly joining the back of an already long queue that hugged the building, then admiring and drooling over their beautiful bakes from afar. Having eyes on stalks to grab a table as soon as one came free then slowly devouring the prettiest tarts ever!!! The fresh fruit tart and lemon cream tart were both an absolute delight – so light and dreamy. A absolute must visit!! To read my experience of patisserie heaven in San Francisco, click here.

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Lemon cream tart

5. The Reliance – this isn’t necessarily based on one of my most recent reviews, our annual Christmas lunch, but also from eating here many times over the years. It’s a firm favourite in my eyes delivering on many levels and all important ones for me; great food served at reasonable prices, lovely staff all found in a relaxed space. Our Christmas lunch a few weeks ago just reaffirmed this for me! To read about my last couple of visits click here.

Meatball sandwich
Meatball sandwich
Confit duck
Confit duck

6. Le Langhe – this Italian restaurant in York won me over with it’s perfect pasta, so much so that we ordered seconds! Simplicity in its ingredients, yielding tasty results, I could eat a bowl of that silky pasta all over again as I type, it was so good!! Click here to have a read of my visit.

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Game ragu

7. Belgrave Feast – Oh I’ve eaten, and I’ve eaten well over the last year, enjoying amazing street food at Belgrave’s monthly feast!! I’ve gone on ALOT about the Belgrave in 2014 making it a difficult one to whittle down, so I thought which would I always go to time after time, without question I would have to pick out Arepa!Arepa!Arepaand Fu-Schnikens!! Both are extremely comforting, more-ish and damn tasty! 

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SobreBarriga Arepa
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Gua Bao with sticky ox cheek

Where have you had some memorable meals and why?

http://www.themanbehindthecurtain.co.uk

http://www.nomdeli.com

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stuzzi/356068864465742

http://www.tartinebakery.com

http://www.the-reliance.co.uk

http://www.lelanghe.co.uk

http://www.belgravemusichall.com

http://arepaarepaarepa.blogspot.co.uk

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Coffee – An Education, San Francisco – guest post by Lucy Reynolds

One of my great delights in life is that first cup of coffee in the morning. The one that clears away the fuzziness of sleep and kick starts your brain for the challenges of the day. It’s joyous, it’s essential and before my trip to San Francisco, it’s usually been of the freeze dried variety. Yes, I know – the coffee connoisseurs who are reading this are probably spitting out their mouthful of single origin Columbian shouting “Heathen!” but hear me out. My day job as a teacher doesn’t give me the luxury of having time to craft that perfect cup of coffee; in fact, speed and caffeine content nearly always takes precedence over quality and taste. What’s that? “Life’s too short to drink bad coffee” you cry. Well, break time is too short to faff around with a bloody filter coffee. And that’s how I thought for a long time – until I went on holiday to San Francisco with my mate Diane, an established quality coffee fan already. 

Due to her thirst for great coffee, Diane had already researched some of the best spots to go to for a quality cup. On our first full day, after successfully shaking off a spot of jet lag, we ventured out to find Sightglass in the SoMA district. One of the rules I’ve learnt about trendy shops and restaurants is that they will invariably have a minimalistic shop front (in the case of the uber-cool bakery Tartine, no name out front at all) and that will continue on into the premises, usually with lots of wood and metal, making it look more like a lumber yard than a place you’d go for a drink. And guess what? I wasn’t proved wrong. The interior of Sightglass was exactly what I’d suspected, but I did have to admit that it looked impressive, if not trying to be slightly too cool for school. Within the shop, the barista (who looked like they’d stepped out of an Urban Outfitter’s catalogue) busily prepare their orders in the open plan coffee bar, whilst heavily tattooed types don aprons and work using the beautiful roaster that dominates the eye when you walk in the store. After buying our drinks (I’d plumped with a latte – I felt in safe territory there), we walked upstairs to sit on the mezzanine level, so we could spy on the open coffee bar and also glance into the glass-fronted company headquarters, which are also located within this flagship store.

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The clientele was varied – ranging from typical hipster city types, to older business people and joggers who probably needed that shot of energy to carry on. Not that we’d done any jogging that morning, but anyone who’s ever been to San Francisco will know that those vertiginous hills really take it out of you. So, here I was, ready to take my first sip of SF’s finest when I made my rookie mistake – I added sugar. Diane isn’t necessarily a violent person but if looks could kill, I’d be pushing up daisies. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that adding sugar is a big no-no, that it wouldn’t need any and I should try it before I add. Scowling inwardly, I took her advice and, lo and behold, she was right. Maybe I’m too used to the over processed bitter beans of Costa and Starbucks, but since drinking very good quality coffee, I can taste a natural sweetness that doesn’t need any additional help. I’d made my latte too sweet and I vowed (rather begrudgingly) to avoid sugar in coffee for the rest of the trip. After about twenty minutes of gazing down at the barista, who seemed to have got tapping milk jugs and creating fern shapes in frothed milk down to a fine art, we moved along, leaving customers ready to jump in our places, attesting to the popularity of the place.  

Similar to the popularity of Sightglass, we had heard great things about a shop/micro-roaster called Ritual Coffee in The Mission, so we went for a visit, and after a few wrong turns and relying on my dodgy Google Maps on my phone, we found it. Unfortunately for us, the shop was undergoing refurbishment, so only the front part of the store was visible. The staff were very friendly though and parking ourselves in a lovely window seat, I decided to break free of my latte chains and go for something slightly more adventurous. I opted for an espresso and it was delicious; rich, complex but remarkably easy to drink. What seems to give coffee shops the edge seems to be the way the beans are ground. Diane had drawn my attention to the EK-43 grinder in coffee all of the shops, and told me that if the beans are ground vertically, instead of the traditional horizontal grinding plates, the end product is supposedly more defined and has greater clarity. In Leeds, I’m aware that Mrs Athas has one of these machines (expensive kit but you can really taste the results) but it seems de rigueur in the San Francisco coffee circles. 

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It was also in this shop that I learnt a whole new vocabulary surrounding the brewing and filtering of coffee. On the shelves were an array of strange apparatus – Chemex, which looked like props from Breaking Bad, V60s, AeroPress, Moka pots and other espresso kettles. Apart from my cafetiere (which I like to say in a thick French accent), I’d only seen the espresso kettle and never in my life heard of a V60 – it sounds like a cream you’d get to clear a case of thrush. I also learnt that they did a cold brew and decided that, in our next coffee shop, that’s what I’d go for.

So on to Réveille Coffee Co. in North Beach, which we actually visited twice during our stay. Our first visit was in the morning, and seeing the freshly baked croissants was too much for our hungry stomachs, so I had a delicious, moist almond croissant whilst Diane went for the classic all-butter version. I also decided to have a cold brew, as I wanted to see how different it was to the idea of an iced coffee that I had already experienced and not really enjoyed in the UK. The difference was marked. Iced coffee is brewed hot and then chilled by pouring over or adding ice, whereas a cold brew is basically ground coffee which is steeped in room temperature or cold water for around 12 hours. It was hugely refreshing and bright, yet still gave that lovely coffee kick. The taste wasn’t strong but actually really smoothy and fruity – it was as if the temperature really brought out the flavour of the beans. The second time we came here we both had a latte and I, learning from my mistakes, left the sugar out and, after a week of this, didn’t miss it at all.

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We also visited The Mill on Divisadero St twice as well; a great coffee shop that was bustling each time we went in. They had an impressive range of beans (Four Barrel) to choose from and the cold brew and espresso I tasted were lovely – I think any memories of freeze dried Nescafe were rapidly disappearing into the ether. They also sold some very delicious looking artisan Josey Baker bread (another thing I’ve learnt is that if you put the word ‘artisan’ in front of anything, you can increase the price by 20%) but Diane and I had already bought some wonderful fresh produce from the local farmer’s market and were waiting on a table at our chosen restaurant for brunch, so decided not to load up on carbs.

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Our last real find was one of the many small coffee bars belonging to Blue Bottle Coffee, well known around San Francisco and seemingly served in most large coffee shops due to the multitude of ‘We serve Blue Bottle Coffee’ stickers adorning shop windows. However, we wanted to find one of the original shops so we could experience just what makes this brand so revered. This kiosk if found nestled a few streets just behind the Opera House (Hayes Valley), opened in a garage in 2005. The only way we knew it was the Blue Bottle Coffee shop was due to the long queue of people patiently waiting for their daily cup of coffee.

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We also patiently queued up and looked at their simple but classic menu of drinks,  with both of us deciding upon a latte. I also spied some shiny, nut brown pretzels and other ‘artisan’ bread buns and ordered one, although myself and the barista must have had some communication problems and, in the end, I had to point awkwardly at the display to the stereotypical twisted pretzel shape, to which she exclaimed rather sardonically “They are all pretzels but I see…you want that one”. I think I made another rookie mistake but hey ho, I wanted the kind of pretzel I’d seen on the films goddammit! Apart from novelty shaped bread problems, the coffee was silky, mellow and extremely tasty – much better than anything that could come from a jar. In fact, we went back a few days after and I, trying to avoid the pretzel lady, got some great advice from a friendly male barista who helped me pick out some freshly roasted beans to take home as a present for a friend. Out of all of the coffee shops I went to, Blue Bottle has to be my favourite. Maybe I’d got used to the culture and the taste, so Blue Bottle came to me when my taste buds were more refined. I think, however, it was more down to the very relaxed and non-pretentious set up of the shop. Yes, it was tiny, but it felt special and like a treat when you got your order. It tasted great and just gave an insight into the typically laid back San Franciscan attitude that we got to know and admire. It was simple, authentic and extremely reasonable in price and aside from my bread battle, that pretzel did taste great!

And now we come to the present day, as I sit in Leeds, staring at my half full jar of Douwe Egberts. I’m not gonna lie….I’ve had a cup or two in the morning, but I get it now. It tastes ok…nothing special. Just something to wake me up. Since coming back from holiday, I have been into La Bottega Milanese, Mrs Athas and Laynes Espresso and been confident enough to order cold brews, split shots, piccolos and espressos. And they’ve been great. And I haven’t added sugar at all (honest guvnor!). I’m also thinking about ordering a V-60…but just thinking mind you. Let’s not rush things… 

All photos in this blog post were taken by Diane Amesbury.

http://www.sightglasscoffee.com
http://www.ritualroasters.com
http://www.bluebottlecoffee.com
https://www.facebook.com/TheMillSF
http://www.reveillecoffee.com

Sanraku, San Francisco

Our last evening in San Francisco called for a memorable meal to cap off what had been an AMAZING seven days all round. We’d happily filled our belly’s with brunch and snacks earlier that day, so by the time evening arrived we were up for something lighter.  Wanting to stay within close proximity to our hotel, a quick nosey on the web pointed us towards Japanese, in particular Sanraku. It just so happened that we both LOVED Japanese food and the plan was always to try some during our visit, I suppose it felt like it was meant to be!

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Found at the top of the Tenderloin district, this area is littered with a number of Japanese restaurants. We luckily managed to grab seats at the sushi counter even though we were going on spec, for me THE best place to eat Japanese food because you get an eye-full of highly trained sushi chefs working their magic. 

The menu is reasonably priced with good choice across the board, whether you are a sashimi or sushi fiend, or prefer something hot or with noodles etc.

My friend was eager for nigiri which gave us a chance to see the chefs at work. To follow that she chose the tempura udon. Whilst Lucy had chosen fairly quickly, it took me a little longer as there was so much I wanted to eat! Eventually going for some of my favourites….soft shell crab and unagi donburi!!!

I still watch hypnotised as sushi chefs work with such amazing precision; whether slicing fish, moulding the rice or making rolls. Within a number of minutes of ordering the nigiri were handed across the counter, simplicity and beauty personified on one board. It’s surprising how vinegared rice and raw fish can be the stimulus for such joy when eating food, but that’s just how it was! 

Tuna and Salmon nigiri
Tuna and Salmon nigiri

My deep fried soft shell crab with tempura sauce was cooked exceptionally well. One of my most recent reviews was Leeds’ own Zucco, where I raved on about their soft shell crab; this was just as good if not better. The batter was typically Japanese as it was fluffy yet perfectly crisp! Surprisingly it also had lots of meat, and came with a light dipping sauce that adding seasoning, but still allowed the crab to come through.

Soft Shell Crab
Soft Shell Crab

The accompanying house salad looked simple yet vibrant, it’s never something I choose to eat very often, but  it would’ve been rude not to try.  It certainly had crunch, a light dressing provided sharpness making it a nice palate cleanser and gave me something to graze on before the next course.

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House salad

My first encounter with barbecued eel was at Yo Sushi, I’d pick unagi nigiri from the belt EVERY time I went. It wasn’t an addiction, but I definitely developed a soft spot for it. Consequently, it made me always looked for it on menus, but the first time I saw it play a key role in a more substantial dish, was during a trip to London with the best mate in December 2008. We ate at Cafe Japan in Golders Green, I ordered unaju unaware of how it would be served. We’ve often reminisced about that evening, when the unaju arrived in a square Japanese lacquered box, lifting its lid it brought a huge grin to my face and girly giggles when I looked inside!!! It’s been a favourite ever since.

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Me opening my Unaju at Cafe Japan, Golders Green, December 2008

This time my barbecued eel (unagi) was in a round bowl so is called Unagi Don or Unadon (donburi means bowl). Underneath a bed of steamed rice, for garnish pickled ginger, thinly sliced sticks of cucumber and Japanese crepe, which I think is called usuyaki tamago. It’s a very filling and tasty dish, the eel is moist and is coated in a sticky soy sauce that has a sweetness to it, enough pickled ginger and other elements keep the dish interesting. The ratio of rice to eel was just about right and I managed to eat the whole thing, apart from a few grains of rice. 

Unagi Don
Unagi Donburi at Sanraku

My miso soup was decent enough, salty with cubes of soft tofu, wakame leaves and spring onion.

Miso soup
Miso soup

From Lucy’s point of view there were no complaints about the food, the tempura were cooked perfectly and had the characteristic fluffy and crisp batter, whilst the udon noodles in light, but flavourful broth were delicious. The portion was a generous one, so she was gutted to be sadly defeated by it.

Udon
Udon
Tempura
Tempura

The cost was $77.21 for two people, not including a tip.

Sanraku was a great place for our last dinner in San Francisco and I’d definitely recommend it.

Food: great choice of dishes to suit people’s preferences. Sushi delivered in terms of quality and craftsmanship. Hot food cooked well and tasted great.

Service: the service we received was exemplary from start to finish. Apart from the food it made our last meal special!

Atmosphere: at the sushi counter a quiet calmness resided, whilst the atmosphere elsewhere was a busy one, with a nice rumble of chatter from diners and busyness from waiting staff.

Sanraku
704 Sutter Street
San Francisco
CA 94109
http://www.sanraku.com/sanraku.html

Baker’s delight, San Francisco

As part of my trip around San Francisco, one thing that cropped up whilst doing the research was the quality of the bakeries the city has. With only a short amount of time we had to be selective and stick to a couple, ones that were in areas covered on our itinerary. One of these I’d highlighted was much lauded Tartine Bakery, but Sarah from Noisette Bakehouse also mentioned Craftsman and Wolves too. 

We first visited Tartine Bakery on the first full day of our stay, heading to the Mission district we’d already stuffed our faces with a delicious empanada and a mahoosive burrito, so when we finally got there we weren’t hungry, can you believe it!!! Just having a couple of cold drinks to quench our thirst, envious of the food everyone else was eating. A sweet treat lovers paradise, the place has a busy atmosphere with the bakery adjoined, you can see them at work from the street and inside the cafe. A landmark bakery that’s hugely popular, possesses no need for signage and regularly has a long queue wrapped around the building, something akin to what’s seen outside Bettys  Cafe Tea Rooms in Harrogate. 

On display were some beautiful cakes and tarts, such as the lemon meringue (lemon-moistened genoise layered with caramel and lemon cream, all topped with meringue peaks), passion fruit lime bavarian (lime-moistened genoise with passion fruit Bavarian, topped with sweetened cream and coconut) and chocolate hazelnut tarts, then there were the croissants…ahhh the list goes on and on…!!

Firstly apologies for the quality of the photos, many were taken in a very busy queue and most of the items were behind glass!

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We couldn’t leave San Francisco without trying again, as it worked out we’d planned to visit the Castro district on our last half day, with the Mission district being next door it worked out perfectly! But, as expected, there was a queue (shown in the photo) so we walked down the street to the other bakery on our hit list – Craftsman and Wolves.

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Craftsman and Wolves is known for being a contemporary patisserie, also found in the Mission district. I soon realised why my friend Sarah had pointed me in its direction, as it’s just full of so many inventive delights such as Yellow corn, stone fruit and basil scone or their Strawberry, banana and cornflake muffin! Their Cube Cakes were beautifully delicate and very hard to resist. Wanting to have a little something I decided on a Morning bun, whilst my friend had heard The Rebel Within was a bit special so went for that. 

The Rebel Within is a stroke a genius! I suppose we’d compare it to a scotch egg,  it was like a breakfast muffin, consisting of Asiago and Parmesan cheese, Easton’s breakfast sausage, scallion (spring onion), soft cooked Tomatero farm egg. Cooked to perfection, it was perfectly moist, the egg was runny in the middle and the white was just cooked, brilliant!

My Morning bun wasn’t as rock ‘n’ roll, but still extremely tasty made with créme fraîche, grains of paradise, muscovado morning bun. I had no idea what grains of paradise were, but a quick nosey on the web said it was a spice with a peppery and citrusy flavour. Also possessing properties which help with digestion.

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OK, so back to Tartine bakery, we joined the queue and had our fingers crossed there’d be a couple of free seats, so we could eat and devour some more sweet treats. Luckily, I managed to literally nab two as a couple were leaving, meaning my friend had to call out to me the choices. Now I’m not really a fan of nuts, too much chocolate and banana, but I love sharp fruit so she selected a tart topped with raspberries. Sounded like a winner!

The photos don’t do them justice as they both looked so lovely and delicate. The sweet pastry cases were mega thin and utterly perfect. Mine had a delicate cream topped with fresh raspberries and blackberries and was stunning. Whilst Lucy’s went for a Lemon Cream Tart, with a sweet pastry case filled with lemon cream and topped with unsweetened cream. Heavenly!

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Those San Franciscans are very lucky people having these bakeries!! For those of you who’d like to find the best sweet treats in Leeds and the West Yorkshire area, you’d be very hard pushed to find better than at Sarah Mather’s Madeleine Express, her bakes have had people, including me on the verge of a head-spin for a while, they are so good!! She’s currently trading at Trinity Kitchen, Leeds till the end of August!

Tartine Bakery & Cafe – 600 Guerrero Street, San Francisco, CA 94110 
Craftsman and Wolves – 746 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110 

Divisadero Farmer’s Market Photoblog, San Francisco

On the way to Sunday brunch at Nopa we’d noticed a farmers’ market being set up. We are fortunate in Leeds to have many fantastic markets in and around the city, so I was interested to have a closer look. 

Called Divisadero Farmers’ Market, located in an area just off Alamo Square, every Sunday this market brings the best that’s locally produced, whether it be fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, baked goods, nuts, meat as well as a lot more. It’s not a particularly large market by any means, but that maybe a good thing because the traders they do have are selling the best produce available, many being artisans, producing fantastic honey, cheese and bread.

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We’d been lucky to get fantastic weather for our week in San Francisco, which many locals had commented was far from the norm in July. So we strolled in bright sunshine, approx 30°C+ and saw beautiful displays of flowers, bread, fruit and veg. From what we saw, growing organic is a huge thing in California, as stalls proudly state this fact.

Here’s a selection of photographs from a visit to the market:

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There was so much food eye candy on show I could have bought loads, instead I settled for just a pound of figs to munch on them when we got peckish. They were absolutely delicious, and so juicy!! 

A great initiative at the market I saw was something called the Market Match incentive program, that offers a $5 bonus for purchasing at least $10 in CalFresh/EBT tokens at the Farmers’ Market. A great incentive to buy fresh from the market. I also loved that there was a table full of information with recipes, using many of the ingredients on sale and information on the benefits of eating good produce. 

DIvisadero Farmers’ Market
Grove Street, at Divisadero,
San Francisco