August 24, 2009

Dinner on 22nd Street

Many travel food stories go something like this... While exploring a foreign city, a tourist comes upon a small cafe down a side street and enjoys wonderful meal.... Sometime this story can happen closer to home.

San Francisco's Mission District is a fantastic place to go eat. There are many outstanding restaurants serving a wide variety of different types of food for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, and midnight snack. In this neighborhood there are several little gems hidden among the plethora of well known dining establishments. Two such places are on 22nd Street on the block between Mission and Valencia Streets.

Chile Lindo in a welcoming and very tiny cafe. The narrow room is painted a warm red color and seats only about a dozen guests. This cafe serves wine and empanadas – both traditional ones with pino (ground beef, onion, raisins, black olives, hard-boiled egg, and spices) filling and ones with cheese and chili filling for vegetarians. The menu is written with colored chalk on blackboards along the wall. We sat down and both ordered a glass of wine and an empanada. My empanada was excellent with a flakey crust, creamy cheese, and warm chilies and my husband (Jonathan) enjoyed his traditional meat filled pastry.

Chile Lindo is simple and perfect. This is the place to go for an excellent empanada!

Not far down the street is Loló – a restaurant and wine bar with eclectic décor. When you enter the restaurants you enter the first small dining room, the bar and second dining room is through a small black hallway. Both dining rooms have bright and crazy decorations made from recycled materials – from red plastic bottle cap dots on the walls to mirror glass cut into the shape of a flying seagull to silly home accessories all around the restaurant. Even the bathroom is full of unique décor – including several car rear view mirrors hanging from the ceiling. The overall result is a cheerful and fun atmosphere!

But, on to the real reason to come to Loló – the food and wine! The menu is tapas and everything sounded good! We tried stuffed squash blossoms with a creamy cheese and spice filling, an heirloom tomato salad, and Jonathan also got some octopus. The bread and tomato spread served with dinner were excellent! My favorite dish was the heirloom tomatoes – perfect tomatoes and goat cheese dressed with fresh herb olive oil! I look forward to returning to Loló soon to try more tapas!So, whether you are traveling the world or in your own backyard, I encourage you to seek out the small cafes and hidden gems!

August 23, 2009

A Saturday of Food Fests

So, I normally do like to keep this blog positive. If I go somewhere I do not enjoy, I do not write about it. But, there is always a reason to change. Yesterday we attended two food-centric events – Cork-n-Pork at Treasure Island Wines and the San Francisco Street Food Festival hosted by La Cocina in the Mission.

First we went to Cork-n-Pork at Treasure Island Wines, then to the Mission for the SF Street Food Fest. TI Wines is a small collective of several winemakers in an old warehouse on the former Navy base. Yesterday's event included wine tastings and BBQ. I am a vegetarian and much to my surprise I enjoyed this event more than later! While my husband enjoyed the wine and meat, I enjoyed the wine, some cheese, and the nice weather on Treasure Island.

After a bit of time at the first event we drove to the Mission. We began driving around looking for parking and quickly we realized there were tons of people attending the festival. The streets were overcrowded and we decided to park our car at our house one neighborhood over and take the bus back.

So, about 30 minutes later we found ourselves finally at the SF Street Food Festival. It was insane. They had closed off the block of Folsom Street between 25th and 26th Streets. The area was ridiculously crowded. The vendors lined one side of the street and lines for food stretched across the street, up onto the sidewalk and then turned ninety degrees and continued a ways down the sidewalk. People were waiting in line for an hour to buy one small bite of food. The festival was scheduled from 11:00am to 7:00pm and vendors were already running out of food items at 4:00pm. Some had nothing left to serve. We walked through the throngs for a while and finally decided it was too crowded to enjoy and we left feeling disheartened and let down.

I had been really looking forward to the SF Street Food Festival! The idea was great; but, sadly the event itself was disappointing. The organizers needed to have a larger location, as well as a better plan to deal with the crowds and long food lines.

August 21, 2009

Dinner at Sociale

So, I know I should have taken pictures of this tasty food, but I did not. Blame it on a lack of concentration, being distracted, or, most likely, the tastiness of the food – but whatever the reason I forgot to take food pictures. That said, here is the story of dinner at Sociale.

Down a small pedestrian alley off Sacramento Street in San Francisco's Laural Heights neighborhood is Sociale, a small Italian restaurant. Yesterday evening, the end of a stressful day, I found myself sitting at the corner table on a surprise date with my husband. It was a perfect place to come and escape the crazy world. When you arrive here, you walk down a small brick pathway that opens up into the restaurant's courtyard. It's picturesque with foliage and a sense of calm to the place. There are several tables outside under the heat lamps, but as the fog rolled in we opted for the indoor dining room.

Now, on to the main attraction – the food. For appetizers I ordered the fried olives and my husband, Jonathan, ordered bone marrow. Then for the main course I had the wild mushroom tajarin (an egg yolk pasta with chanterelles) and Jonathan had the pork chop. All the food was excellent! The olives were warm with a crunchy breading on the outside and melted cheese inside. And the pasta was amazing – I would like to eat it everyday! Jonathan was very pleased with his food too! For drinks we brought a bottle of wine from home that the restaurant happy opened for us. And, then dessert! We ordered the chocolate oblivion cake. It was creamy with an intense chocolate flavor and was served with sea salt, olive oil, and cookie crumbs. I have noticed accents of olive oil and sea salt making their way into desserts at several restaurants around San Francisco. I think both pair very well with sweets and dark chocolate.

Dinner at Sociale was a wonderful experience! It is definitely a perfect place for a cozy and romantic evening.

August 18, 2009

Words on the Sidewalk

I came across these word on a sidewalk in the Mission and took the picture for my husband.
Guerrero Street, Mission District, San Francisco, California

Taco Trucks in the Mission

Around the world, street foods are best snacks. San Francisco is home to many food trucks and carts. Recently several new trucks have arrived on the scene serving everything from French cuisine to curry to crème brûlée, but the traditional ones make tacos and other Mexican street food. Saturday afternoon Jonathan and I walking around the the Mission District in need of a snack and decided to stop by the El Toyanense taco truck at 16th and Shotwell Streets. I ordered a vegetarian taco and Jonathan got a beef taco and a carnitas taco and within a few minutes we were standing on the sidewalk enjoying our fresh made tacos! And best of all – each taco cost less than $2! So, El Toyanense is not only fresh and good, it is also very economical! A perfect afternoon snack!

August 2, 2009

In Scorching Las Vegas Again

Only a few weeks after our previous trip, we were back in Las Vegas a few weekends ago. Again the weather was oppressive – windy, hot, and dry, typical summertime in the desert. Since we come to this city to visit relatives, not vacation, we spend a good deal of our time outside of the temperature, atmosphere, scent, and sound controlled world of the casinos and attractions along Las Vegas Boulevard. It is a different perspective of a world famous city.

On this trip the heat and location of our hotel made me focus on the strake contrast between the crumbling facade of old Vegas and the slick glass of the new luxury high rise hotels. Between the two worlds, cranes and construction equipment fill the sky line as developers continue to push aside old buildings, hotels, and neighborhoods to make room for more and more new extravagant complexes. This city is definitely a place of extremes.

One cloudy, late afternoon I took a few pictures near our hotel and posted them on my photo blog, Pictures of My World.

Soul Food Brunch in the Fog

San Francisco has a copious number of good restaurants – and lots of them serve excellent brunch! One of the best and most popular is Brenda's French Soul Food. This tiny cafe is on Polk Street in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco right next to KFC. They serve Creole style breakfast and lunch during the week and brunch to the long line of customers on weekends. Yes, Brenda's is so small, diners have to wait on the sidewalk for a while to get a table; but once inside everyone is rewarded with warm, comforting food.

The food at Brenda's is French and New Orleans soul food – and definitely good! The brunch menu includes beignets, egg dishes, and more. Both the beignets (which come either plain or filled with chocolate, green apple, or crawfish) and biscuits are tasty, fluffy, pillowy pastries. The scrambles and omelettes are excellent, as are the potatoes. Even the grits are creamy and good. I grew up in New England and have always looked at grits as a not very approachable (and often not tasty) food. But, these grits are like a soft, creamy (and quite flavorful) polenta. And the food is served with New Orleans Community Coffee with Chicory or tea.

As long as you do not mind waiting in line for a table, Brenda's is a great place for brunch!
San Francisco, California