One of my best friends since childhood abandoned her husband and first-born in Chicago to spend some time with me in foggy San Francisco. We would not be best friends if she was not similarly obsessed with food. Maria’s preferred foods are like her: intensely flavorful, comforting, and unpretentious. They are also usually high in fat and calories, which she is not. I took her to some of my favorite spots, and we got to explore new places together.
Our first meal was Hawaiian brunch at Grindz. Like Hawaii, Maria loves Spam. Our meal: Chicken and Waffles – chicken tonkatsu with spam+cheese buttermilk waffles. Spam musubi. Loco moco.
After exploring Bernal Heights, the Mission, and Lands End, we ended our day with some casual fish and carnitas tacos Nick’s way (using one hard shell and one soft shell in their tacos is genius) and elote con queso at the Taco Shop at Underdog’s. I’ve tried to recreate their elote without success. Like everywhere in the Bay Area, the guacamole is killer.
The breathtaking view from Bernal Heights Park. Mission Delores Park is a popular spot for a reason. I’ve been to Tartine Bakery at least 5-6 times since my move to San Francisco. Each time, I discover something new and amazing. This here is a coconut cream tart, which we got by default because the banana cream tart was sold out. I thank God for this divine encounter. We enjoyed it with Sightglass coffee at the modern bakery/coffee shop Craftsman & Wolves. And, we were fortunate to have some sun on my side of town for the evening and experienced the spectacular sunset in Lands End. The next day: Napa Valley.
On our way to Napa Valley we stopped by Kirby Cove for the breathtaking view of Big Red.Maria has a real, actual bucket list – small and big feats she wants to experience in her lifetime. One is making a 3-point shot and another is drinking wine in Napa Valley. We found a winery, Clos Du Val, that allowed picnics and brought our own bread, salami, cheeses, olives, blueberry jam, olive oil, fruit and chips+guacamole which we purchased the day prior at Bi-Rite Market. Clos Du Val was the perfect first Napa Valley experience – quaint, quiet and gorgeous grounds nestled in rolling hills. Clear blue skies and a cool breeze didn’t hurt either. Next stop – Yountville for dinner. That evening, Thomas Keller’s ad hoc was not serving their famous fried chicken, so we decided on Bouchon for some relaxed french bistro fare. The flatbread, lamb with au jus, trout, and steak all included decadent doses of butter. The evening drive home was something to behold. Pastel skies to bright city lights. The next day was filled with comfort Asian food: Porkbelly and Coca-Cola braised pork buns at Chairman food truck (along with other Off The Grid food trucks), spam katsu sliders at Volcano Curry, and dumplings from Shanghai Dumpling King. Maria and I love chocolate. And the best chocolate ice cream I have ever tasted is the Tcho 60.5% chocolate ice cream at Smitten Ice Cream. Smitten ice cream makes made-to-order ice cream using liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen makes the ice crystals in the ice cream smaller than regular freezing which creates the smoothest, creamiest ice cream you’ve ever tasted. On the last night of Maria’s visit, the fog thwarted my plans to see the sunset from Twin Peaks. However, per usual, near the Bay, there were clear skies and a beautiful view of the Bay Bridge lights. Goodnight San Francisco! On our last day together, we had a casual lunch at Cafe Bunn Mi for some banh mi sandwiches. This turned out to be Maria’s favorite meal of the trip! So much so, it basically ruined her ability to have other banh mi sandwiches elsewhere ever again.
Cafe Bunn Mi’s sandwiches aren’t your traditional banh mi – they include crispy duck, pork belly, and lots of extras including hard boiled eggs. They bake their own french rolls, and their fried imperial rolls are spectacular. Maria’s not a fruit gal, but she loves watermelon. So, of course, we got the watermelon slush, which really tastes exactly like sweet watermelon in a cup. I wasn’t sure if this place was “special” enough to include in our escapades, but I had a feeling this was just the right balance of Asian-casual-unique-fatty-fresh-fried-spicy to cater to Maria’s palette.
Maria’s visit reminded me again that a good meal tastes infinitely better with good company.