When: April 2012
Where: SF, California
Somehow food keeps tasting better away from home and this trip was no exception. Following on from my top five ingredients for a good meal out, there were a couple of places from our recent trip to San Francisco that fit the bill of getting my ingredients just right. Best of all the first two were a five minute walk from one another! Thanks to the Internet it seems the days of needing a guide book for visiting the USA are well and truly numbered with Trip Advisor, Flyertalk and Chowhound all giving a range of bespoke and up to the minute options that guide books cannot compete with.
This Vietnamese restaurant is located on Larkin and Eddy and from the outside doesn't look overly enticing. However, once through the doors it became evident we were on to a winner. Service was warm and friendly and seemed to be even warmer and friendly to the regulars. My beer was icy cold as was the table water, just the way I like it. The speciality here is Pho, which is a noodle soup with various toppings. We started off with some spring rolls and then I went for the Pho Bodega sur Demande - rare steak fillet slices, well-done brisket and beef meatball combination in a rice noodle soup. This was both refreshing and filling and by the end I was too stuffed to think about dessert. I found this place on Chowhound and I certainly would not have found it on my own with it being tucked away from the main tourist areas of San Francisco. This meal was a great start to the trip, perfect company and a relaxed atmosphere. The food was tasty and slightly exotic, fitting perfectly with being on holiday and the service to go with it was just right. Bodega Bistro was also a bit of a bargain and quality wise was at worst on par with other reasonably priced restaurants and made a nice change of emphasis from the usual Chinese/Japanese Asian food that we normally have back home in the UK.
Bodega Bistro 607 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA.
Brenda's French Soulfood
Just across the road from Bodega Bistro lies Brenda's French Soulfood restaurant. Another reasonably priced restaurant serving food that is not often seen in the UK. We ate here for brunch on our first morning in San Francisco and it was truly amazing. There was a small queue and to save your place in line you write your name and number of guests on the chalkboard by the door and wait for a free table. Service felt warm and welcoming to the first time visitor as well as the regulars and we were soon sat down with menus and coffee. I went with the Egg & Bacon Tartine: Bacon, scrambled eggs, gruyère & tomato-bacon relish on toasted french roll, with choice of grits or hash. I ordered the hash but I ended up with the grits. The food was really, really good and probably the most interesting of the many cooked breakfasts we had on this trip. I still don't know what to make of grits, they feel/taste like mashed potato meets rice pudding and I ended up layering mine with tomato ketchup. My partner went with the butter milk pancakes with fruit. The best tip I can give for eating here is to allow for the fact that the food is tasty and filling, if you come for breakfast you won't want lunch. You could probably just do brunch here and be full enough to see you through till the end of the day. I wish I could open a version of Brenda's near me just so I could go whenever I wanted.
Brenda's French Soulfood 625 Polk Street, San Francisco CA.
Pied Piper Bar
At the time this place was a bit of an afterthought and a way of maxing out AMEX's Fine Hotels and Resorts program benefits. The reviews were pretty mixed but the gamble paid off. The Pied Piper is located at the Palace Hotel just off the financial district in San Francisco and they looked after us really well, an amazing room upgrade and a lovely breakfast in the beautiful old world Garden Court. The Palace is famous for "old world" luxury and is one of the oldest hotels in San Francisco. The Pied Piper Bar is famous for the multi-million dollar Maxfield Parrish painting that hangs above the bar telling the story of the Pied Piper. The rest of the bar is all dark wood, low lights and big screen TVs showing sports. The crowd contrasts as much as the TVs do with the art work, this is my kind of place to sit and have a drink. Seeing as we had $100 to spend we started with some cocktails which were excellent, fair play to anyone who can blend absinthe and whiskey into a martini glass and make it both refreshing and easy to drink. As we had spent the last few days getting bloated on the best beef Las Vegas has to offer, it was time for something a little lighter and certainly less rich. I ended up with a club sandwich which was filled with freshly cooked warm chicken breast, my partner went with the signature Pied Piper salad that was overloaded with King Prawns. Service was perfectly in tow with the surroundings, casual in conversation but executed with formal precision. Whilst this may not be to everyone's taste it was the right place at the right time and as we found out the next night that's a really important thing.
The Pied Piper Bar 2 New Montgomery Street San Francisco, CA 94105, United States
Campton Place Restaurant
Just up the road from the Palace we spent our last night at the Taj Campton Place for a luxurious end to our trip. The problem with that is that the more you spend the higher the expectations. Campton Place recently won its first Michelin star, so added to that was the expectation that the food would be good too. Service here is very formal, though the staff try to enjoy themselves and bring some personality to their work, but with a little fine tuning they could get the balance perfect, though maybe this is hard given the type of restaurant and the ever-changing clientèle. We ate here for breakfast and dinner. The sad thing to see was that the restaurant was barely half full on the Saturday night we were there. I imagine this is due to the wealth of dining options in San Francisco. I think the issue I have with my limited experience of higher end restaurants is that many aim for perfection and don't quite make it with every aspect. There normally seems to be one course that's not quite right, or the atmosphere of the place that takes something that would have been perfectly fine in a slightly cheaper restaurant and ends up amplifying the imperfections. Unusually it was not the starter that was the let down here. My spicy lentil soup with crab was delicious, lightly spicy but not so much as to overpower the crab. My rabbit three ways was good, though the rack of rabbit looked like it could have been cooked a little longer and I actually enjoyed the rabbit kidneys, which I was not expecting. I cannot remember my dessert, it was good and it was not chocolate which is rare for me, but it doesn't stick in the mind like the pistachio soufflé I had at Castle Terrace in Edinburgh that nearly caused a "wafer thin mint" style explosion from over-eating.
Breakfast the next morning was great. The service was a little over the top but the food was first rate. Fresh juice, fresh coffee and a really tasty cooked breakfast, just far too much of it. It was a shame there was not British style bacon, I really don't go for the American bacon the same way that I like bacon back at home. In all for the money spent, our meal at the Taj wasn't quite worth it, though I'm sure for others it would be. Perhaps trying the tasting menu or getting a special offer which from reading online seems like something they do from time to time would be the way to go.
Campton Place 340 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California 94108, U.S.A.