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I need 5 places to eat/go in SF/N. California

I need 5 places to eat/go in SF/N. California
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  • I need 5 places to eat/go in SF/N. California

    Post #1 - June 4th, 2006, 10:49 pm
    Post #1 - June 4th, 2006, 10:49 pm Post #1 - June 4th, 2006, 10:49 pm
    My LA trip, for which I thank you all profusely for the many times 5 things to eat, is now an LA and San Francisco area trip.

    Truth be told, I don't think we're going to spend that much time in the city, so while I'm receptive to city of San Francisco ideas, especially Chinatown or waterfront ones, I'm also looking for more general Northern California ideas.

    Now, if I didn't have two little kids along, I wouldn't need the help, I'd be tasting wine up one valley and down the next. But I do, so I won't be. Instead, I'm looking for where to go within a reasonable drive of the SF airport and environs that would entertain the boys (we just read a book about the gold rush, so that's timely), and for food in the same areas.

    To recap, less ramblingly:
    • Places to eat in San Francisco
    • Places the whole family would enjoy visiting around SF (around meaning within 3 hours or less, I suppose)
    • Places to eat in those places

    As I said about what I was looking for in LA:

    Tell me a place, or a thing, that I must eat. Tell me the thing you dream of returning for... High end is acceptable but considering it will be us and the kids, casual joints are more useful-- [and] overall atmosphere and uniqueness are prized, too, man does not vacation by food alone.

    Thanks in advance for the fantastic ideas.
    Last edited by Mike G on June 5th, 2006, 9:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
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  • Post #2 - June 5th, 2006, 8:42 am
    Post #2 - June 5th, 2006, 8:42 am Post #2 - June 5th, 2006, 8:42 am
    Like Langer's, the only place I always have to visit:

    Swan Oyster Depot

    Be there when they open for lunch.
  • Post #3 - June 5th, 2006, 9:01 am
    Post #3 - June 5th, 2006, 9:01 am Post #3 - June 5th, 2006, 9:01 am
    I've never been, but I'm fascinated by the story of Locke. It's sometimes described as a "ghost Chinatown," but the city itself bristles at the suggstion that it's a ghost town.

    This blog post includes descriptions and pictures of food from one Locke restaurant, as well as more about what someone did visiting there.

    I haven't found the details online, but I seem to remember something in the NY Times article that originally introduced me to Locke linking the cuisine to New Orleans food, not directly by culture but by virtue of the common river-delta geography. The aforementioned post describes that area as the California equivalent of New Orleans.

    It's described as 75 miles from San Francisco (in Sacramento county), so that should be within the 3 hr. The city's founding dates to 1915, so thta's post gold rush, but it seems to have some of that feel to it.
  • Post #4 - June 5th, 2006, 11:57 am
    Post #4 - June 5th, 2006, 11:57 am Post #4 - June 5th, 2006, 11:57 am
    In San Francisco:

    450 Post Street

    I had two wonderful meals there, including a divine lunch that started off with a glass of Billecart brut rose and the most wonderful heirloom tomato salad with avocado flan. Emily Lucchetti's desserts are quite American, straightforward but very well executed. I had the blueberry tart with goat cheese ice cream two days in a row. The tart shell was perfectly composed and baked and the ice cream recipe very well balanced.

    Their specialty is seafood but I did not eat any in my visits there.

    225 Clement

    Q is a great place for lunch or a casual dinner. It has very eclectic decor (my table had a clear top and an odd tableau or plastic dinosaurs and super heroes frolicking underneath), a good beer menu, vast wine selection. It's been several years since I was there but I have very fond memory of their macaroni and cheese, tator tots and mashed potatoes. The staff were all friendly and laid back but still attentive as far as service.
  • Post #5 - June 5th, 2006, 1:49 pm
    Post #5 - June 5th, 2006, 1:49 pm Post #5 - June 5th, 2006, 1:49 pm
    I would highly recommend the town of Santa Cruz (aka the People's Republic of Santa Cruz), where we spent a highly enjoyable few days visiting last spring with our kids (I have a friend who teaches at the University there.) It's within 45 minutes of San Francisco, a beautiful drive down Highway 1 (though check -- I know they've had landslide issues somewhere around -- but I think north of SF -- and part of 1 is closed.) It's a perfect place for a family vacation: there's the old boardwalk, with its historic and charming amusment park. There are usually sea lions lolling about right on the boardwalk, barking loudly and entertaining the tourists. There's the tiny but endearing Surfing Museum, overlooking Steamer's Lane, where one can spend hours watching the highly skilled and the less so catch the waves. And, if you're inclined (as my then 10 year old daughter was) you can take a surfing lesson and join in the fun yourself. There are fabulous beaches and picturesque lighthouses to visit in any direction you choose to drive up or down the coast -- if surfing is still of interest, you can drive up to Mavericks and try and see some really big surf (only happens once in a while.) You can also easily visit the redwoods in the glorious parks in the area, one of which has a steam locomotive that runs through it. And there's tremendous food to be had, great Mexican and other spots -- I'll be more specific if you decide to head in that direction. If you were going mostly to Santa Cruz, it's easier to fly into San Jose, a relatively small and manageable airport, about 30 minutes from Santa Cruz. We had a fantastic time in Santa Cruz there and plan to visit again soon.
  • Post #6 - June 5th, 2006, 2:41 pm
    Post #6 - June 5th, 2006, 2:41 pm Post #6 - June 5th, 2006, 2:41 pm
    All of Clement (in the Avenues) is a worthwhile stroll. This is the real Asian+others District, with food, shopping, + Green Apple Books and a lot more.
    A worthwhile loop is to hit Marin Headlands, (across the
    GGB, Sausalito, thru Mill Valley, Muir Woods-Tennessee Beach and on to hwy 1 up to Mt. Tam, over to Stinson Beach, on to Olema, then back east to San Rafael, and back to SF,
    Or, an East Bay Culinary/Scenic Trip, thru N. Oakland, Berkeley, Albany, and on to The series of Parks that follow the Ridge Lines(San Pablo Dam Road, or straight up several hills in Berk),
    Santa Cruz is cool,
    Sacramento and the Gold Country quite a haul.
    Where are you flying out from?
  • Post #7 - June 5th, 2006, 4:16 pm
    Post #7 - June 5th, 2006, 4:16 pm Post #7 - June 5th, 2006, 4:16 pm of the coolest things I ever did when I was in San Fran was to go to outdoor theatre at the Marin Shakespeare Festival. It's this gorgeous outdoor setting with benches and I saw a very good production of Much Ado there -- it was a gorgeous night and it made for a truly magical theatrical experience. It's worth it just to drive out to San Rafael--the trees alone were lovely.

    I see that they're doing King Lear in July...I love Lear.

    In terms of San Fran -- it's been years since i've been but if you've never been to the House of Nanking in Chinatown...then you haven't really lived. <Grin>

    House of Nanking
    919 Kearny St, San Francisco, 94133
    (415) 421-1429


  • Post #8 - June 5th, 2006, 4:24 pm
    Post #8 - June 5th, 2006, 4:24 pm Post #8 - June 5th, 2006, 4:24 pm
    Mike G wrote:• Places to eat in San Francisco

    I just returned this morning from a week back in San Francisco. Of the 2 dozen or so meals I enjoyed, two stand out. I have a ton of pictures that I'll sort through and post in a few days with more info

    1. One of the most unusual dining experiences ever, anywhere: Jai Yun
    2. For a Bulli-esque extravaganza of the highest quality: Campton Place

    More info later.

  • Post #9 - June 5th, 2006, 4:25 pm
    Post #9 - June 5th, 2006, 4:25 pm Post #9 - June 5th, 2006, 4:25 pm
    I wish I could answer more specifically about where we're going. It's a bit ad hoc; we fly from LA to SF (airport) the same day our friends in Tiburon get back from Boston, so (figuring they don't want guests the instant they get back) we're thinking about heading straight out of town then and doing something rural, coastal, or national parkal first, returning to SF and thereabouts later in the week. I need to do some reading up (here included) before I know more, so feel free to tell me where I'm going and it could very well happen....
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  • Post #10 - June 5th, 2006, 9:16 pm
    Post #10 - June 5th, 2006, 9:16 pm Post #10 - June 5th, 2006, 9:16 pm
    Some of our favorite SF are :
    1. Breakfast: It's Topps Coffee Shop: A 50's hole in the wall diner serving home made breakfasts including great pancakes and egg dishes. Since 1952, this family-run, knotty-pine hole-in-the-wall goes for the country kitchen cabin feel. About the size of a box car, you get the best trailer trash meals on Market Street. Working the grill since 1947, they've got the requisite juke box, a counter with stools, and homemade pies accompanied by the biggest scoops of ice cream in San Francisco. Sit at the counter and talk to the owner/chef while your food is being prepared. A hidden jewel.
    It's Topps Coffee Shop
    1801 Market street
    San Francisco, CA

    2. Lunch: Fog City Diner: An upscale diner serving the finest lunches in SF. Check their lunch menu at
    Fog City Diner
    1300 Battery
    San Francisco, CA

    3. Dinner: Tadich Grill: Great seafood for over 140 years.
    Tadich Grill
    240 California Street
    San Francisco, CA

    4. Late Night: Hot N' Hunky: The best home made burgers , banana malts, and fries in San Francisco. Excellent chili. This place has been dishing out juicy burgers, fries, and malts for over 20 years. Sandwiches named after Marilyn Monroe and Ms. Piggy.
    Hot N' Hunky
    4039 18th Street
    San Francisco, CA

    5. Up North Breakfast-Egghead's Restaurant.: Wizard of Oz theme including a real yellow brick road leading to an out house in back of the restaurant. Great, unusual, home made breakfasts. An hour wait during the week, longer on weekends. A unique breakfast experience. Don't miss this place. It's worth the drive up HWY 1.
    Egghead's Restaurant
    326 N. Main Street
    Ft. Bragg, CA

  • Post #11 - June 12th, 2006, 12:22 pm
    Post #11 - June 12th, 2006, 12:22 pm Post #11 - June 12th, 2006, 12:22 pm
    You've gotten some great eats recommendations, here are a few "go" ideas for kids and their parents.

    In SF: Wander through the San Francisco Botanic Garden/Strybring Arboretum in Golden Gate Park. Easily accessible by bus or car. Beautiful place to spend a morning or afternoon with plants from around the world.

    The Exploratorium--hands on science.

    Outside SF:
    Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, by far one of the great aquariums with kid friendly hands on exhibits about sea animals and their habitats.

    the Tech Museum of Innovation, San Jose.

    For foodie adults: Copia, the American center for food, wine, and the arts in Napa. A museum of food with daily wine tastings and a great garden highlighting wine grapes and plants that illustrate flavors we identify in wines.

  • Post #12 - June 12th, 2006, 12:58 pm
    Post #12 - June 12th, 2006, 12:58 pm Post #12 - June 12th, 2006, 12:58 pm
    I know that it's written up in all the tourist books and Iknow the lines are excruciatingly long on the weekends. But, I still love to eat a huge breakfast at Kate's Kitchen (471 Haight). I recommend a weekend morning. They don't open until 9 (welcome to San Francisco). Somebody in your party needs to go for the corncakes with bacon and cheddar, They are a thing of beauty.

    Kate's Corncakes

    I also found some pretty good Thai at Sai Jai Thai on O'Farrell in the Tenderloin. Everything was very well prepared. The flavors were bright. It was among the best thai I had in SF. The "One Bite Salad was an excellent exercise in how great varying textures and flavors can make one dish taste.

    Meing Come (One Bite Salad) at Sai Jai Thai

    I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the excellent soul food that was recommended to me from Nellies in Oakland. It's just a short drive across the Bay Bridge. The service is friendly and the soul food devine.

    Nellie's Kickass Fried Chiucken, Greens and Sweet Potatoes

    R&G Seafood's excellent Cantonese is well represented by the Salt and Pepper Dungeness Crab. It's a real job to eat it all. If you're not in the mood for such an extravagant meal, R&G also serves really tasty rice plates at lunch.

    Salt and Pepper Crab at R&G Seafood

    Finally,as a LTH Food fiend, you owe yourself a Saturday morning at the Ferry Terminal Farmer's Market. There is great fresh fruit and vegetables to be had there. There are also great stands selling everything from Blue Bottle Coffee to Heritage Steak sandwiches. I love to buy some great fresh fruit and cheeses from a vendor and make a mid day snack of it.

    Crab Louis Sandwich Constructed from Various Vendors at the Ferry Market.
  • Post #13 - June 13th, 2006, 6:04 pm
    Post #13 - June 13th, 2006, 6:04 pm Post #13 - June 13th, 2006, 6:04 pm
    As far as non-vineyard ideas go, I'd suggest a jaunt to Berkeley for an easily obtainable lunch reservation at Chez Panisse Cafe. The wide open kitchen, the laid back staff, the surfeit of things they now have to work with in light of the burgeoning bounty of summer produce. As memorable a lunch as I can remember. Head to the campus and photograph your kids straddling the Hayward Fault-one of the most potentially lethal faults on Earth. Marvel at the Roaring Twenties optimism that led the builders of Memorial Stadium to place the football field directly over the fault line, but to build the stands in two halves in order to move independently in the event of a big quake.

    Copia currently (or they did as of two weeks ago) has a thorough and very enjoyable exhibit on the Diner. The edible garden there is amazing. Bring Ziplocs and load up on fresh herbs of all kinds.
  • Post #14 - June 14th, 2006, 9:58 am
    Post #14 - June 14th, 2006, 9:58 am Post #14 - June 14th, 2006, 9:58 am
    ^ if you're in Berkeley, there are many chow restaurants to hit up beyond chez panisse. my personal fave is a direct head to head ramen comparo:

    2556 Telegraph Ave.
    Berkeley, CA

    2068 University Avenue
    Berkeley, CA 94704
    (510) 883-0667
    Ryowa's lunch specials knock me out everytime... the "variety" of ramen is also quite interesting...

    we're going to be up and down Monterey/Sonoma for July 4th; this thread is just about perfect timing.
  • Post #15 - June 14th, 2006, 11:44 am
    Post #15 - June 14th, 2006, 11:44 am Post #15 - June 14th, 2006, 11:44 am
    Chicago's my home town, but I've lived in various 'hoods in SF for 9 years now. Of these posts, YourPalWill's holds the most truth. Of the others...well, Hot N Hunky has been closed for years. I don't think you want to take two kids to Farallon. House of Nanking is a bit of a joke to locals...try Great Eastern or R & G Lounge. I would definitely hit Taylor's Refresher in the Ferry Building though with your group for burgers & fries. Really, the Ferry Building is going to be a great resource for your trip. Can't say enough about it. Zuni Cafe if your kids are a bit more sophisticated food-wise for a classic SF feel.
  • Post #16 - June 15th, 2006, 12:22 pm
    Post #16 - June 15th, 2006, 12:22 pm Post #16 - June 15th, 2006, 12:22 pm
    Dim Sum: Yank Sing, hands down (at Embarcadero). All the delicious, perfect soup dumplings you can shake your chopsticks at.

    Grazing throught the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market on Saturdays is a good idea, too.

    Yank Sing
    One Rincon Center
    101 Spear St.
    (415) 957-9300
  • Post #17 - June 15th, 2006, 12:35 pm
    Post #17 - June 15th, 2006, 12:35 pm Post #17 - June 15th, 2006, 12:35 pm
    Yank Sing is no longer in Embarcadero Center, but in the Rincon complex (the address listed above is correct). I was there a few weeks ago on a Sunday morning and it was just O.K., not as good as Ton Kiang or Samkee, IMO.

  • Post #18 - June 15th, 2006, 1:12 pm
    Post #18 - June 15th, 2006, 1:12 pm Post #18 - June 15th, 2006, 1:12 pm
    Two thoughts on stuff to do with a family:
    1. Buy picnic lunch stuff and drive north to Pt. Reyes park. It's a beautiful coastal park an hour or two north of the City. Hike to the beach and you'll have it mostly to yourselves.
    2. Not for eats, but I've got three boys, and Alcatraz was a highlight. Book the boat ride in advance.
  • Post #19 - June 19th, 2006, 9:43 am
    Post #19 - June 19th, 2006, 9:43 am Post #19 - June 19th, 2006, 9:43 am
    I'm going to SF Wednesday for my sister's wedding, so this list comes in helpful. Specifically though, we're going to a show at Slim's nightclub, which I think is in SoMA and my sister has requested sushi beforehand. Can anyone suggest a good sushi restaurant in SoMa or a neighborhood nearby (w/in walking distance)?
  • Post #20 - June 19th, 2006, 10:45 am
    Post #20 - June 19th, 2006, 10:45 am Post #20 - June 19th, 2006, 10:45 am
    Kyo-ya is about 1 block south of Market Street in the Palace Hotel. It's been a few years since I ate there, but it was IMO among the best (and most expensive) sushi to be had in the City.

  • Post #21 - June 19th, 2006, 2:59 pm
    Post #21 - June 19th, 2006, 2:59 pm Post #21 - June 19th, 2006, 2:59 pm
    Aside from the mentioned (Great Eastern and R&G Lounge) what other
    Chinese restaurants should I attempt? And who really does have the best dim sum?
  • Post #22 - June 19th, 2006, 3:18 pm
    Post #22 - June 19th, 2006, 3:18 pm Post #22 - June 19th, 2006, 3:18 pm
    fela wrote:Aside from the mentioned (Great Eastern and R&G Lounge) what other
    Chinese restaurants should I attempt? And who really does have the best dim sum?

    This month I went for the first time to Jai Yun. It was sensational, but VERY different. Below is what the Chron has to say:

    It's a fantasy come true: an exceptional restaurant tucked away on the side streets of Chinatown, out of reach of the tourist set. Chef Ji Nei' is newly arrived from Nanjing, a city about 200 miles due west of Shanghai. He speaks almost no English, or Cantonese for that matter, and shops every day in Chinatown to buy ingredients for his nightly dinners. The menu changes nightly, depending on what he finds and what he feels like cooking. Diners call for reservations and he does the rest. He's practically a one-man operation, so there can be waits between courses, and you may end up bussing your own tables, but no one seems to mind. The chef is so well respected that many of his Chinese-speaking patrons address him as sifu -- master. The focal point of the bare-bones dining room is a worn sofa, the soft-drink cooler in one corner and the Christmas ornaments that decorate the well-maintained interior year round.
    Cuisine: Chinese
    Specialities: Quail soup; velvet abalone; house pickled meats and vegetables; rose duck; basil-mushroom stir-fry; poussin with souffled taro balls.
    Seats: 36
    Prices: Multicourse banquets start at $35 (for 16 to 20 dishes)
    Noise: Talking in a normal voice gets difficult (70-75 Decibels)
    Parking: Some lots; street (difficult)
    Vitals: 923 Pacific Ave. (at Powell), San Francisco. (415) 981-7438. Lunch and dinner Friday-Wednesday. Beer and wine pending (bring your own). Cash only. Reservations accepted.

    Couple of corrections: Prices were from $45 - $150 per person. The first and only thing you do when you order is to tell the server how much per person you want to spend. We picked $100 per person. The decor has been upgraded: the soft drink cooler now has disco lights atop it and there are cases of toilet paper tastefully stored over the front door. They are serving wine, but on or visit the selection was limited to two types of cab. Other guests knew to bring their own. And the noise level is deafening. I'm not sure what some of the dishes were we ate because I just could not hear the server. All were extraordinary.

    I've got some great photos of the meal we had, but just haven't had time to organize them.

  • Post #23 - June 21st, 2006, 2:40 pm
    Post #23 - June 21st, 2006, 2:40 pm Post #23 - June 21st, 2006, 2:40 pm
    Slanted Door for vietnamese (I think it's in the Ferry Marketplace) is a must

    L'Osteria Del Forno in North Beach for casual italian

    Farallon is wonderful but more upscale and pricey--I didn't find it to be kid- friendly
  • Post #24 - June 22nd, 2006, 2:29 am
    Post #24 - June 22nd, 2006, 2:29 am Post #24 - June 22nd, 2006, 2:29 am
    are you already familiar with these spots? most of them are known and already pretty standard among the more dedicated bay area eaters. i'll follow up with the details on these if you're not familiar with them already. if you already know these, maybe i can help you get to some lesser known stuff.

    rosamunde sausage grille, sf - hamburger (tuesdays only sellout b4 2:30p)
    coi palace, daly city - yum cha/dim sum
    hk flower lounge, san mateo - yum cha/ dim sum
    r&g lounge, sf - cantonese
    hon's wonton, sf - cantonese quicky food
    golden gate bakery, sf - daan taats (egg tarts - hk/cantonese style)
    liguria bakery, sf - focaccia
    hog island oyster, tomales bay - shuck your own
    da flora, sf - italian (esp. gnocchi)
    sj viet "com dia" place, san jose - forgot the name
    pizzaiolo, berkeley/oakland - nicer environs pizza, beer, and other stuff
    in n out burger (@ daly city & @ fisherman's wharf) - yall lth'ers like 'em, no?
    hung ky, sf - viet
    pig feet cafe, milpitas - taiwanese (gotta find out the english name)
    de afghanan kebab house, fremont - afghani kebabs
  • Post #25 - June 23rd, 2006, 3:42 am
    Post #25 - June 23rd, 2006, 3:42 am Post #25 - June 23rd, 2006, 3:42 am
    The Exploratorium is getting a little run down, especially when compared with OMSI up here in PDX which they keep much nicer. But it has a lot more people going through it. I still highly recommend it. Kids and adults will have fun.

    The Monterrey Bay Aquarium is the best I've been to in the US. It's much better than the SF one. If you're down that way, midway between Monterrey and Santa Cruz is Watsonville and I highly recommend a Northern California Chowhound fav, Tepa-Sahuayo. Avoid the seafood, but otherwise eat, eat, eat, eat. And this is one regional Mexican restaurant where I highly recommend the flour tortillas. Fantastic handmade with great texture.

    I know the Ferry Building is touristy nowadays, but it's still damn cool and good for the family. Definitely get some chocolates. Also, Slanted Door is there, which is excellent, but they also have a take-out place. If you go on Saturday you have the full-on farmers market. There's public transit in all directions from here and it's easy to get to the big sites because of that.

    I think Mitchell's makes great ice cream. Real ice cream, not gelato. Worth finding and easy to park around.

    In Berkeley, you could go to the Cheese Board for pizza and the cheese shop next door (more or less) to each other. I LOVE their pizza and I've had a lot of great pizza from all over. Expect a line, but it goes quickly. While there, make sure you check out Berkeley Bowl and I highly recommend the Scharffenberger tour. You'll be bathed in a chocolate fog.

    Just northeast of the bay area you can go to the Jelly Belly factory.

    If you didn't have the kids, I'd suggest some mid/highend Indian in the South Bay. There is, of course, Vietnamese, Mexican, and Indian all over the place.
  • Post #26 - June 23rd, 2006, 8:26 am
    Post #26 - June 23rd, 2006, 8:26 am Post #26 - June 23rd, 2006, 8:26 am
    A great place for Kids(and Adults) in Sausalito is the Bay Model-
  • Post #27 - June 23rd, 2006, 8:43 am
    Post #27 - June 23rd, 2006, 8:43 am Post #27 - June 23rd, 2006, 8:43 am
    I just remembered one of the places I really try not to miss when I go to San Francisco: Zante's Pizza and Indian Cuisine

    The serve regular pizza, and they serve regular indian cuisine, but they also serve a incredible indian pizza, available vegetarian, or with tandoori chicken, or lamb, probably some other options.

    I was reminded of Zante's because of a thread about Tahoora (here in Chicago); a couple of years ago we were excited to see Tahoora list "Chicken Tikka Pizza" on their menu, but the execution was disappointing -- it was not horrible, but it wasn't Zante's -- it was just cheese pizza with some chicken thrown on. Zante's really seems to achieve a fusion of the two ideas.

    Zante's Pizza and Indian Cuisine
    3489 Mission St
    San Francisco, CA
    (415) 821-3949
  • Post #28 - July 23rd, 2006, 12:02 pm
    Post #28 - July 23rd, 2006, 12:02 pm Post #28 - July 23rd, 2006, 12:02 pm

    Shh... I Don't Love S.F.

    (Third installment in the followups to my California trip and the request for tips above; earlier installments here and here.)

    Am I the only one who finds L.A. more congenial than the American Paris, the Bagdad by the Bay San Francisco? I suspect not, because almost every time I try this heretical notion on people, they look shocked, think for a minute, and then admit that they kind of feel the same way too. Yeah, it's staggeringly beautiful from at least three or four angles, yeah, Marin County has the most gorgeously comfortable lifestyle mankind has achieved since the days of Tiberius Caesar on Capri, but do what I did-- tromp kids around the cramped, hot, dirty city for six hours, explaining every few steps why there are so many homeless people and why free public bathrooms mean you can never actually find a bathroom (I swear, six hours in SF oughta be enough to make Milton Friedman out of anybody, though obviously it hasn't)... well, let's just say there's probably a way to have a good time in San Francisco, but it has nothing to do with kids.


    So unlike my L.A. report, this one isn't about knocking great places off my list. There was no way I'd be able to make the rest of the family jostle for stools in hopes of cold seafood at Swan Oyster Depot, for instance; no way I'd drag them across another bridge for pizza at Chez Panisse, to determine if John Mariani was right about it; no way the kids were coming along for a nine-foam-course lunch at French Laundry. The best I could hope for was dim sum in Chinatown:


    Actually we tried, first, Yank Sing in the financial district, but they don't start serving until 11 and we wanted breakfast. So we paid the sucker-bait cable car fee and rode up to the top of the hill to find somewhere in Chinatown to eat. Years ago I'd had a dim sum epiphany at a giant hall with rolling carts called New Asia, trying many things I'd never seen in Chicago, digging the atmosphere of hundreds of Chinese reading their papers and chit-chatting over tea and chicken feet.


    So we started looking for another such cart place. And we walked, and we walked, and along the way the kids were complaining enough that I just went in some place, the kind of place with no English signage and seating for one and a half and packed with old Chinese ladies, and I bought a couple of things to tide us over until breakfast five minutes later. One of them, barbecued pork inside a kind of croissant-like material. It was really, really good and I don't even know the name of the place.

    Anyway, failing to find any other choice, eventually we walked across all of Chinatown and wound up at... New Asia.


    Which was fine, visiting again (actually the third time over the years), but it was that barbecued pork thing that haunted my dreams that night. Yet how would you take a whole family in search of such things in this tiny, cramped Chinatown? There's nowhere to sit, people would bonk them in the head with bags...


    New Asia Restaurant
    772 Pacific Avenue
    San Francisco, CA 94133


    Actually, though I may not love S.F., there is one thing it has that I am deeply jealous of: The Ferry Building Marketplace. A fine old public building (where some ferries from Marin still dock) has been transformed into the ultimate culmination of all that Alice Watersian work over the last 30+ years cultivating artisanal local produce and goodies-- a mall. A mall full of artisanal cheese (Cowgirl Creamery), naturally-raised meats, homemade bread (Acme), exotic honeys, gelato, fruits and veggies, soaps and candles, even a store devoted to this:


    An artisanal mushroom store. A free-range mushroom store. Let that one sink in for a minute. I wept with joy. I would live in S.F. for a year just to cook from the shops here. (Not that I could probably afford either the living or the cooking.)

    Of course, traveling as we were I couldn't get much of this stuff, but I bought some bread (Acme, pretty good but not great), some Cowgirl cheese (one of which was so pungent it actually stunk up our hotel room-- from inside the fridge!), and some honey to take back, and got us lunch at Taylor's (quite good burgers, and unlike most of the disdainful service people in the greater Bay area, the young counter guy entertained my kids while we were waiting).

    This 12,000 square feet of S.F., at least, I loved.

    Ferry Building Marketplace
    One Ferry Building
    San Francisco, California 94111
    (415) 693-0996

    * * *


    We actually stayed in Tiburon in Marin County (hence the arrival at the Ferry Building) because we have friends there; a couple of meals we had there included dinner at a nouvelle-ish Mexican place, recommended by G Wiv, called Guaymas. It was all right, but frankly I had better of the same genre on either side of it-- Loteria in L.A. before and Sol de Mexico since-- and the service was downright lackadaisical (I managed to take one child out for gelato and have him finish it, between the time my wife received the bill and the time she was able to actually sign the credit card slip and leave). Its main draw is a charm-by-the-bucketful waterfront location:


    The only other restaurant meal we had there, I think, was breakfast at a place on Tiburon's oh-so-cute old main street called The Swedish House Bakery, the kind of place where everybody knows everybody and you can forget, for a moment, that no one's actually lived in California for more than the last week. A bit pricey (in Marin? No!) but a nice little slice of small town life in The Big Suburb-- so pleasant, you could almost be in Lindsborg, Kansas!

    5 Main St
    Tiburon, CA 94920
    (415) 435-6300

    The Swedish House Bakery
    35 Main Street
    Tiburon, CA 94920
    415 435 9767

    * * *


    While in Tiburon we took a day trip up to Sonoma. Why Sonoma rather than Napa? Because of Train Town:


    Train Town, to adult eyes a fairly marginal operation as California attractions go, was a huge hit with you know who, but otherwise I can't say I much recommend the idea of visiting wine country with kids, either. The attempt to find a winery with interestingly dugout caves or something was only minimally successful (we saw Buena Vista's cave-- from behind an iron fence), I was too weary to even want to try to sample wine while the kids glowered at me and tried bouncing Riedel stemware off each other's heads, and other than Train Town, basically all we did was have lunch at an alleged New Haven-style pizza place (I can't speak to the justice of that claim) which was pretty good, called The Red Grape. I hear John Mariani considers it the 11th-best pizza in America!

    Red Grape Pizzeria
    529 1ST St W
    Sonoma, CA 95476-6606
    (707) 996-4103

    * * *


    Pardon me for jumping all over chronologically but before we ever got to San Francisco we spent a few days in Monterey-- technically in Pacific Grove next door, which is less touristy-bohunk-- and, based on the recommendation by ToniG above, with a couple of visits to Santa Cruz along the way. (Where I even ate at the recently-discussed Lee's Sandwiches, the Subway of Banh Mi.)

    Monterey alas was overcast (not uncommon I gather) the whole time, so while there was a certain melancholy splendor to gazing out over the rocks to the gray seas and sky, it tended to drive us toward the tourist attractions.


    Truly here is Steinbeck's dream for Cannery Row realized-- the most ungodly collection of irritating tourist bait fudge shops and cutesy-poo restaurants with names like Louie Linguini's on earth. I mean, all you really have to say is that here's an authentic fishing port, immortalized by one good author, and the big restaurant draw in it is a crappy seafood restaurant paying royalties to a much crappier writer, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Good for the locals if they've managed to find a new basis for their economy once fishing and canning pooped out, but the whole area would deserve a surgical strike by submarine were it not for the lone respectable, indeed world-class attraction amidst the fudgeries, the Monterey Bay Aquarium.


    It really is marvelous-- and you should try to go before the jellyfish exhibit is taken down at the end of the year-- though I must admit that for a place sending hundreds of people off to the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. for lunch every day, the constant harping on P.C. messages got to be a little much for me:


    Still, it's quite an experience and when it came time for us to eat deep-fried Cajun popcorn Chilean sea bass in a ground coral reef-seahorse dipping sauce, we managed to escape the tourist hell and find an entirely reasonable seafood alternative only a block or two outside the district, an outpost of Sea Harvest, a local fishing company which also operates a few restaurants/fish markets. Nice that the real deal manages to survive next to so much fakeness, even without Governor Schwarzenegger's help.


    The only other notable meal we ate in Monterey was at a restaurant called Passionfish, which seems to be the favorite of, for instance, folks posting on the California board on Chowhound. It also happened to be about three blocks from our B&B, so eating there was pretty much inevitable.


    I was concerned that, being this close to places like Pebble Beach, Passionfish might be overly stuffy for the crazy boys but actually it was very kid friendly and we had an older (i.e. older than 26) waitress who was very savvy about all that, for a change.

    This being the Monterey area, Passionfish's menu starts off with the obligatory text of nautical correctness: "Passionfish is dedicated to serving sustainable seafood; seafood that is harvested in a manner that does not harm the habitat of the ocean floor nor result in by-catch of the ocean's endangered turtles." The contradiction for a high-end restaurant in being pledged to sustainability was soon revealed when the table next to us asked if the tilapia was "ocean-caught." The waitress (not ours) hemmed a little and then said, yeah, sure it is, everything our chef cooks is ocean-caught... Uh huh. It's tough for a restaurant in a place like this, pledging yourself to fishy correctness without wanting to admit that one of the costs of that means that you're going to be serving and eating chicken-of-the-tank like tilapia. I'm not saying there's one right answer, I'm not saying I'm all for fishing things to extinction, I'm just saying... there's a lot of pious talk about that stuff in California (and especially in Monterey), but there's also a lot of people ordering what they think is going to be authentic, better-than-Costco-at-home Pacific seafood and it's sure coming from somewhere.

    Passionfish was, a little unfortunately, one of those meals where everything was great except the entrees. Sweet potato fries with a sesame aioli, gotten for the kids, were scarfed up enthusiastically by all. The salad with silky smoked sturgeon above, and a salad with Dungeness crab, avocado and a citrus dressing, were utterly delectable, beautifully balanced, exactly what you hope for in seafood dishes from a place next to the sea (even as I realize the crab was not exactly local).

    Entrees, well, her scallops were kind of ordinary in a "tomato-truffle butter" with a glob of "risotto custard" in the middle; and my duck confit was sort of like the description Jim in Logan Square offered of a similar dish, "almost well done, with only a hint of pink in some of the slices, and the rest cooked -- very thoroughly -- to a complete greyness." Both were overcooked, neither cooked to the point of perfection one would hope for from those two ingredients. At least dessert sent us out on a higher note:


    Not sure if those were local strawberries, pretty sure they weren't local peaches, but the strawberry mousse had the zing of really good produce.

    Sea Harvest Fish Market & Restaurant
    598 Foam
    Monterey, CA 93940

    701 Lighthouse
    Pacific Grove, CA 93950
    (831) 655-3311

    (Incidentally, for those looking for accommodations in that area, our B&B in Pacific Grove was reasonable ($150/nightish), pleasant and very well located.)

    * * *

    Santa Cruz


    Santa Cruz has a fun area to stroll along, preserving a time period in all its cheesy excess perfectly, and letting you gawk at all the wacky characters.

    And then besides the 2006-era college town shopping district, it also has an old boardwalk and amusement park!

    Santa Cruz was fun, more fun for the kids than the rest of northern California on this trip put together. We rode a steam train through the redwoods (Roaring Camp, about 10 miles before Santa Cruz on Rte. 17), we rode the boardwalk rides, we played on the beach, we ate corn dogs at a place decorated with pictures of former Miss Santa Cruzes and Miss Californias--


    Actually, I had ordered a cheeseburger when I noticed, unexpectedly, that my other choices at this very typical-American dog stand included a Portuguese Linguica. Hey, I'll have that! It was a greasy gut bomb, but at least it wasn't another damn hamburger.

    We also ate at John Mariani's 12th-best pizza in America (or is Santa Cruz too far from a major airport for him to drive?), an oh-so-this-minute yuppie pizza and pasta place called Kianti's (ick), which did indeed make pretty good wood oven pizzas. (The pizza thrower placed in some international contest for that skill.) It was a walking cliche of faux-Italianness, but I do think it was a better choice than the first place we were attracted to, an alleged bistro called Chocolate. Normally any place calling itself Chocolate would have my wife in there in a minute, but when we looked at the menu and saw that the bistro food included such French classics as pasta with pesto, chicken mole, and Impeachment Pie (the notion of impeachment did seem to be the main decor theme, in a way that suggested something more than casual interest in the topic), we decided that maybe that place was spreading itself a little thin across too diverse a range of interests to be a really tip-top bistro.

    Anyway, I may not love S.F. but I liked Santa Cruz fine, we had a good time, and thanks to all for their suggestions, even if I was able on this trip to act upon only a very few of them.

    Kiantis Pizza & Pasta Bar
    1100 Pacific Ave
    Santa Cruz, CA 95060
    (831) 469-4400

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  • Post #29 - July 23rd, 2006, 7:43 pm
    Post #29 - July 23rd, 2006, 7:43 pm Post #29 - July 23rd, 2006, 7:43 pm
    omg, say it ain't so. chinatown for dim sum? ouch. well, while i - as a native san franciscan - do agree about san francisco being kinda lame in several aspects (including food) compared to other cities, i hope that wasn't the end of your eating in sf or in chinatown this trip. if you're still around and hitting chinatown again it might be good to swing by golden gate bakery on grant at pacific and get the daan taats (egg custard tarts). made nice and lardy in the crust, generally understood to be the best around among chinese folks (hmmm, however they do close for vacation sometime during the summer usually, maybe call ahead). also in walking distance, please make it to dinner at da flora on columbus and (i wanna say) filbert and get the pumkin gnocchi (whole order for yourself? think about it) and whatever else and eat the bread they brung ya. that's it. there's other places, but if you have to be real focused and in that area, that's my suggestion. for dim sum, i don't think chinatown's the place to be. though yank sing and ocean city (? ocean view?) on commercial street are alright.

    and btw, those flaky bbq pork things are probably cha-siu sou (as in 'so what'). hope you are enjoying/enjoyed your trip. peace.
  • Post #30 - July 26th, 2006, 12:32 pm
    Post #30 - July 26th, 2006, 12:32 pm Post #30 - July 26th, 2006, 12:32 pm
    I wish I had seen this before you came to Santa Cruz, but maybe this will be useful for the next visitor to town.

    Kids and grown-ups love Carpo's (despite the cheesy logo):

    There is a location in Soquel, just off Highway One. The other location is out Mission Boulevard on the west side of Santa Cruz, past the Safeway on the other side of Mission.

    They have great burgers and sandwiches, a salad bar, fabulous (real) milkshakes, wine/beer, and they are very affordable. It's high-quality diner fare, and I don't think it will disappoint.

    Another thing I highly recommend is going to the River Cafe and Cheese Shop for a picnic lunch:

    They have fantastic sandwiches (my favorite is the Niman Ranch steak with cognac-gorgonzola sauce and caramelized onions), artisanal cheeses from around the world, soups, salads, desserts, gourmet condiments and so much more. They are mostly organic, and the food is of the highest quality. I love them so much I work for trade (website stuff). And right across the street is a Cost Plus World Market, where you can score wine or beer for your picnic, too.

    Better than Kianti's pizza is Engfer's Pizza Works in Seabright.

    If your son loves trains, you have two more destinations to add to your itinerary.

    One, the Train Place Deli in Capitola on 41st Avenue, across from the mall. Inside, 1000 feet of model railroads run around the room, with trains going all the time.

    They have some organic meat options, too, which is good to know. Nice folks, good food.

    Second, there is Roaring Camp Railroads in the redwoods up in Felton.

    You can take a narrow-gauge steam engine through the redwoods down to the Boardwalk, or go up to Bear Mountain. There are both covered and uncovered seats.

    (Also, at certain times of the year, Thomas the Tank Engine visits. It's a mob scene, but little boys go nuts.)

    Santa Cruz excels in little bistros that serve local/organic/seasonal cuisine, and the best of these, in my opinion are:

    Oswald Bistro (no website), located downtown:

    Gabriella Cafe (I also do their website work for trade...I only work for restaurants I love.)

    Soif Wine Bar: lots of little plates, wonderful food by a skillful chef (with a wine store on the premises, too):

    Ristorante Avanti (no website): (I did take those photos) -- they have been doing the local/seasonal/organic thing longer than anyone in town...since 1986. They're out Mission Boulevard but not too far past Bay Avenue.

    For sushi: Shogun (1123 Pacific Avenue) and Mobo Sushi (105 S. Front Street, near the downtown Trader Joe's) are our favorites. We used to be Pink Godzilla fans, but it's just too obnoxious there anymore. (Drunk party beach vibe.)

    Finally, here is a somewhat dated list of kid-friendly restaurants in Santa Cruz.

    I can definitely recommend the food at Gayle's Bakery (Capitola), Taqueria Vallarta (all locations), Cafe Cruz (Soquel on 41st), El Palomar (beautiful spot on Pacific Avenue, elegant but still very kid-friendly, upscale Mexican), and Ristorante Avanti on that list. Whoever put "Shadowbrook" on there must be a shill, because it's not a place I would consider taking children except at brunch, and then only if they are naturally well-behaved children.

    Hope this helps.
    the web geisha