The Significant Eater and I recently returned from our New Year's trip to San Francisco, where we escaped from the snow in New York to 60-degree weather and a week of good eating and drinking. Below are the highlights of our trip:
Blue Bottle Cafe (66 Mint St.) Nearly every one of our mornings began at this minimalist cafe dedicated to the art of serving a perfect cup of coffee. I stuck to cappuccinos all week, aside from one foray to a sinfully rich mocha, while the Significant Eater went with lattes, but all drinks were as nice to sip as they were to look at. It is the best coffee I have ever had. The cafe also serves a nice selection of breakfast foods, including a mason jar full of excellent granola, a fluffy Belgian waffle topped with local butter, and several interesting egg dishes.
RN74 (301 Mission St.) We rang in the New Year at Michael Mina's modern American wine bar and restaurant. The crowd was lively, well-dressed and ready to party at the RN74 New Year's party in the lounge area post midnight. While enjoying pre-dinner cocktails of a "Pimm's 74" (made with prosecco and ginger beer) and a "La Femme" (gin, vermouth, apricot liqueur, fresh orange), we couldn't help but notice and enjoy the decor, inspired by the look of a classic European train station similar to that of Otto's in New York City. For a holiday prix-fixe dinner, the five-course meal was more than satisfactory. The highlights included a decadently rich crab and lobster salad, the pappardelle with duck and black truffle broth and the grilled prime beef with wine-braised short ribs (if you didn't get the end cut). But, be aware of the four percent "Healthy San Francisco Initiative" tax that some restaurants may charge--yep, we had to Google it, too.
A16 (2355 Chestnut St.) Although Chef Nate Appleman has left the restaurant to open a new restaurant in New York (I can't wait!), I could not help but pay my respect to the rest of the team at the southern Italian-influenced A16, as I have nearly cooked my way through the A16: Food+Winecookbook, with nearly impeccable results. I had never been to A16 prior to Appleman leaving, but I can't imagine it being much better than what we experienced. We tried a squid ink cavatelli that was highlighted with strong notes of salt cod and the crunch of fresh breadcrumbs. A lamb ravioli found the perfect balance between the richness of braised lamb filling and the delicate pasta sheets. For our main course, we shared a plate of duck meatballs which consisted of ground duck bound by over-the-top yet oh-so-good duck pate. Needless to say, A16 was well worth the 10-minute cab ride from our Union Square hotel.
Bodega Bistro (607 Larkin St.) Any trip to San Francisco should include visits to its ethnic enclaves. While Chinatown may be better suited for tourists, Little Saigon should not be missed for its food. Bodega Bistro, a restaurant celebrating the French influence on Vietnamese cuisine, is slightly (but only very slightly) fancier than the pho joints that dot Larkin Street, but don't let the wine list fool you; this restaurant serves up a mean bowl of pho. Next time, I'll be more inclined to spend a few dollars less on my pho and choose some of the dingier places in Little Saigon, but Bodega Bistro is a good choice if you're looking for a slightly nicer looking spot for Vietnamese.
Heaven's Dog (1148 Mission St.) If you're willing to venture out of the ethnic food districts of San Fran for Asian, Charles Phan's (owner of Slanted Door) new Chinese eatery is a good choice for a variety of dumplings and cocktails. Don't be fooled by the Asian-fusion restaurant appearance of the main dining room, nor be frightened by the desolate street this little gem is tucked away on, this upscale Chinese spot is sure to please palates craving rich flavors. Nearly every dish on the entree and appetizer menu contains pork, so vegetarians beware. While the curry vermicelli noodles were nothing to rave about, the shrimp and pork shumai and spicy wontons were superb. And if we can't have David Chang's Momofuku pork buns, the ones at Heaven's Dog will do. Overall, a great place for a simple dinner before a night out with friends.
Press Club (20 Yerba Buena Ln.) While we would have loved to make a day trip our to Sonoma or Napa, mid-winter is not a very enjoyable time to venture out to California wine country due to its rainy weather, not to mention that it is not in season for the producing wine. Press Club, a spacious underground wine bar in the Four Seasons Hotel, ended up being the next best thing. Press Club is the urban tasting room of eight California wineries, serving only the wines produced by its resident wineries. Don't let the posh surroundings fool you; the prices are perfectly reasonable. My $17 flight of Cabernets included three nearly-full glasses of wines that were all over $50 a bottle at retail.
Anchor Brewery (1705 Mariposa St.) All beer lovers should make the trip over to Potrero Hill to tour San Francisco's beloved Anchor Brewery. The brewery is one of the oldest microbreweries in the country, so the tour provides some interesting history of how the brewery went from near bankruptcy to delivering beers to all 50 states and internationally. The entirely free tours also include a "tasting" of six of the brewery's beers. These tastings are in fact 8-ounce glasses of beer, which left our entire tour group noticeably buzzed as we departed. The tours are capped at about 15 people, so I encourage you to book well ahead of time and to use public transportation to get to and from the brewery.
Bourbon and Branch (501 Jones St.) If cocktails are more your thing, be sure to give Bourbon and Branch a try. Its strict adherence to the speakeasy vibe--admittance to the reservations-only front room is only provided by repeating a password--may be on the cheesy side, but its drinks, especially those made of bourbon, are exceptionally prepared. To avoid the crowded and hot hidden "library" backroom, be sure to make reservations on the website to get the password to the main room. As a bonus, the front room has a larger drink menu.