What do you do when one of your favorite foodies comes to town, and specifically mentions wanting to stroll through The Mission? Why, you plan an itinerary that takes you past some of the neighborhood’s favorite places to buy delicious treats!
After shopping our way through the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market together, we left Laura to explore on her own for a few hours. (We hit Rainbow Grocery for a few staples, then headed home to put our perishables in the fridge.) We met up at high noon at 16th Street BART. Seeing as how it had been ages since we stuffed ourselves with Mexican breakfast at Primavera, we decided a traditional San Francisco burrito was in order. We stopped at Taqueria El Castillito — an old favorite, but definitely not local, sustainable, or organic in any way — and fortified ourselves with burritos and a torta, and a few bottles of Mexican cane-sugar sodas.
Back out into the bright sunshine — it’s always sunny in The Mission, but Saturday was unseasonably hot — we trekked down Mission to 18th. Trying to keep to the shady side of the street, we pointed out the retaurant row that is 18th and Guerrero (Farina, Tartine Bakery, Delfina, and Pizzeria Delfina) but did not stop to join the monster queues. We’d really just planned to peek into Bi-Rite Creamery, but the short line — full of surprisingly happy ‘No on 8‘ protesters — and list of fabulous flavors tempted us. We couldn’t let Laura leave San Francisco without a taste of the famous Salted Caramel ice cream, could we? (Cameron also sampled the malted vanilla with peanut brittle, just to make sure we’d covered all the bases.)
Across the street, Bi-Rite Market was sampling their Thanksgiving offerings from a catering station on the sidewalk. We smelled the heavenly aromas, but couldn’t even consider a nibble. We pressed inside the store along with everyone else in the entire neightborhood, taking a peek at all the fabulous local produce and the justifiably famous deli case. (I still don’t understand how Sean and DPaul lived around the corner for years without weighing 300 pounds. I’d never cook!)
Backtracking to Valencia Street, we strolled past Range — where we’d enjoyed a fabulous dinner the previous night — and popped into Lucca, one of the last remaining vestiges of the Mission’s Italian heritage. We browsed the aisles, admiring the terrific assortment of goodies, then headed back out into the street. I think I always knew that Lucca makes their ravioli on the premises, even noted the minuscule factory visible through the picture window along Valencia, but I’d never timed it right to see the process in action until this week. We stood with our noses pressed to the glass for what must have been half an hour, watching as a pair of flour-dusted pasta makers heaved giant wads of dough through an industrial sheeter, then picked them up like so much dirty laundry and magically unfolded them along a table the size of most San Francisco living rooms. (I could descibe the whole process, but Laura’s slideshow does a much better job.)
We picked up the pace and continued down Valencia to 23rd, then down Mission to 24th. After a quick stroll through the Mexican produce stalls and flower shops, we stopped into Philz to let Cameron caffeinate himself with a fine Turkish-style fiter-drip blend, while Laura and I rested our eyes and feet in the cool, dim surroundings.
Our last stop took us to a rendezvous with some of our fellow bloggers at Mission Pie. We were nearly stuffed, but somehow made room to share a slice of double-crust apple pie and another of pear-raspberry galette. When Jen arrived, she showed us the error of our ways, generously offering nibbles of the godly walnut pie (with a gooey center like pecan pie); I now understand why people drive across town to buy a slice. We sat at a big table together in the now-waning afternoon sun, marveling at all the shop’s gorgeous, quirky details — a map of the farms that sell their produce to the pie-makers, a collection of antique egg scales, and some of the coolest light fixtures in the city — chatting about everything from Yves St. Laurent to antique tractors to …well, food, of course.
If we’d only had an extra stomach, we could have kept walking all day.
Taqueria El Castillito
2092 Mission Street (x17th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
3692 18th Street (x Dolores)
San Francisco, CA 94110
3639 18th Street (x Dolores/Guerrero)
San Francisco CA 94110
Lucca Ravioli Company
1100 Valencia Street (x 22nd)
San Francisco, CA 94110
3101 24th Street (x Folsom)
San Francisco, CA 94110
2901 Mission Street (x 25th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Oh, what fun we’re having with Laura, eating our way around the Ferry Plaza and The Mission from sunrise to sunset, then cooking up a storm for the first night of the Dark Days challenge. The three of us (with the dogs, naturally) sat up gabbing until almost midnight, telling stories and talking about… food, duh!
I promise a thorough recap later, but for now you can check out my Flickr set — plus Laura’s Flickr set and post on (not so) Urban Hennery — for a quick peek at our day.
As our book club sips its merry way around the City, we’re discovering quite a few cocktails that we really like. Try as we might to work up enthusiasm for the drinks we’ve intended to sample, more often than not we actually become quite captivated by another option on the menu.
Such was life the other night at the bar at Range, where we’d gone to sample the Green Lantern, their contribution to Food & Wine Cocktails 2008. It’s an interesting enough drink, and if you hadn’t told me the lurid green came from muddled kiwifruit, I probably would have been stumped.
But the highlight of the evening was two pleasant surprises behind the bar: A newly-shorn Carlos Yturria — who, much to everyone’s pleasure has taken the Wednesday shift alongside the ever-fabulous Brooke — and the reappearance of a summertime favorite on the drinks list. The stalwart known as the Sungold Zinger has graced Range’s warm-weather cocktail menu since the restaurant’s earliest days, and its fan club is legion.
Jen ordered one, served by the man who invented it. Then Fatemeh followed, and then me, and then Cameron, and pretty soon there was a line down the bar of these sharp-looking, vibrant-orange cocktails. Well-balanced, tangy but not too tart, it’s a simple but beguiling combination… the kind of drink you wonder why nobody invented before. Everyone who tasted it had to have one of their own; we were totally smitten. And, apparently, we’re not alone: the Sungold Zinger was chosen one of the 20 best cocktails in America by GQ magazine.
It’s a simple enough recipe to make at home, especially when Sungold tomatoes are at their peak, as they are right now. But if you’re anywhere near Range — especially on a Wednesday night when Carlos is around — drop in for a little sip of summer sunshine.
3-4 Sungold tomatoes
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 oz agave syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
1-1/2 oz 209 gin
Muddle the tomatoes, salt, and syrup together in a mixing glass. Add lemon juice and gin, and shake well with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with another tomato on the rim.
Variation: Replace the agave syrup with an equal amount of St-Germain elderflower liqueur, a nice alternative if you want a little floral hit.
(leftmost filmstrip photo courtesy of book-club member *fatemeh* via CreativeCommons)
If you follow San Francisco’s cocktail scene even half-heartedly, it’d have been hard to miss the news about Beretta, heir to the old Last Supper Club space on Valencia. Even before its much-anticipated opening, this spot was generating plenty of buzz — much of it due to a bartender roster that reads like a Who’s Who of San Francisco mixologists.
Beretta’s culinary pedigree isn’t too shabby either, and our first dinner there was quite promising. A short list of risotto options — the one we tried, with porcini and Barbera, was homely but delicious — follows a litany of pizzas that could give Gialina or Pizzeria Delfina a run for their money with a few simple tweaks.
A dozen-plus antipasto options included delicious grilled asparagus served with olivata and soft-boiled egg quarters, and a spot-on plate of Monterey sardines in soar. Although portions are modest, this is definitely not dainty “small plates” food. They’re just the thing if you like being able to order a starter without ruining your appetite, and at $5 a pop you can always order two if you’re ravenous. Better still, they’re the perfect size for snacking at the bar while sipping one of Beretta’s well-crafted cocktails.
And yes, it’s all locavore-friendly: The menu boasts of food that’s “always fresh, seasonal, and sourced from local farmers”. Word ’round my office water-cooler is Beretta’s weekend brunch is a crowd-free glory all unto itself — and what better place to nurse a hangover?
Because, really, you might just be tempted overindulge when you see Beretta’s lengthy cocktail menu. Unlike the truncated drink offerings at many restaurants, this list offers a little something for every palate, and all drinks are priced at a reasonable $9. Over the course of the evening, we sampled a fantastic Gin & It made with Vya sweet vermouth and Tanqueray 10, plus an eye-opening Air Mail and pleasantly brisk an Agricole Mule.
One other drink we tried — the Monte Carlo — bears more than a passing resemblance to an old favorite, the Oh Henry, minus the ginger ale. Lest a fruity liqueur trick you into thinking this is a tame tipple, remember that Benedictine is 86 proof… stiffer than some bourbons! So, I suggest you do as the Beretta barkeeps do and serve it in a dainty Nick-and-Nora glass.
It’s not often we discover a worthy bourbon drink that’s escaped our notice — we’re great fans of America’s brown liquor, and we’ve even been known to put it in our food. So it seems only fitting to share our discovery as part of the June edition of Mixology Monday: Bourbon, hosted by SeanMike at Scofflaw’s Den.
1-1/2 oz bourbon or rye
1/2 oz Benedictine
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Stir with ice, strain into a small cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of orange.
A small sample of previous Drink of the Week entries featuring bourbon:
1/25/08: Horse’s Neck with a Kick
10/12/07: Whiskey Sour
9/14/07: Fashionably Lillet
7/27/07: Mint Julep
My Dark Days Challenge cohorts, please avert your eyes: With the exception of two or three breakfasts, there was absolutely nothing sustainable, local, or even organic about the way we spent our long Presidents Day weekend. Que lastima — we traded local for loco, spending a crazy four days eating nothing but Mexican food.
Since time was limited on Friday morning before work, we headed to an old standby. Los Jarritos has been the scene of more Sunday breakfasts than we can count, and one or two dinners over the years. The coffee is terrible, so stick with the Mexican chocolate, and the chilaquiles are limp and over-egged. But it’s hard to complain too much about a place that serves homemade tortillas, and the service is always so adorably welcoming that we’re more than a little forgiving of Jarritos’ shortcomings.
Maybe it’s was a case of diminished expectations, but I have to say that my lunch at Frontera Fresco on the lower level of Macy’s Union Square was not nearly the dreck-fest I was expecting after reading some early critiques. Yes, it’s corporate chain food — think Wolfgang Puck Express goes to Mexico — but it’s certainly no travesty.
It might be too strong to say that I enjoyed my meal, but I was served a thoroughly decent, well-garnished bowl of tortilla soup, and an unorthodox (but not unpleasant) chicken torta. I laughed out loud at the sandwich’s sundried tomato garnish, and its lettuce seemed to be dressed in Good Seasons Zesty Italian. But everything else was in the ballpark: rich frijoles, tinga-style chicken, and a chunky slab of queso añejo. Don’t get me wrong: It’s not fabulous, and it’s definitely not worth a special trip, but there are certainly worse ways to spend your $10 downtown. And I’d be downright ecstatic to find a Frontera Fresco branch in an airport.
Friday afternoon, I hopped a southbound CalTrain after work. Cameron picked me up at Mountain View station and in just a few moments we were pulling into the parking lot of our favorite Mexican restaurant, Fiesta del Mar. Our friends Jason and Margaret introduced us to this fabulous place way back in the day — more than a decade ago, now — and we’ve been coming here religiously ever since. Sure it’s crazy to drive an hour to go to dinner, but such is our devotion.
And we’re not the only fans: Plaques on the wall attest to the restaurant’s enduring popularity: They’ve been voted “Best Mexican Restaurant” by the local paper every year but one since the early 1990s. They’re justly famous for their shrimp dishes — Cameron loves their Camarones Alex and the Camarones a la Diabla — but I love them for their great margaritas (El Jimador, rocks, salt… thanks!) and their unbattered chiles rellenos. There’s almost always a line out the door, but the tables turn quickly and you won’t regret the wait.
Saturday morning found us at our usual spot: The Ferry Plaza farmers market, and specifically the Primavera stand. Although this market favorite offers chilaquiles nearly every Saturday, they mix things up a little by varying the sauce; one week it’s a green tomatillo-serrano blend, the next it’s a tomato-chipotle salsa, and the next it might be a puree of guajillo chiles (as it was that weekend).
A plate of salsa-sauteed chips served with Cameron’s all-time favorite soft-scrambled eggs and some pretty delicious black beans… ahh, brunchly perfection. Of course, we couldn’t resist ordering a plate of tacos al pastor — and its perfect pairing, piña agua fresca. Weighted down by our mega-breakfast, we wandered our way around the market, vainly trying to work off our stuffedness while finishing our weekly shopping.
Not surprisingly, we weren’t hungry again until dinnertime. After the sun set, we made our way to the Daly City border to check out a little hole-in-the-wall we’d heard good things about. Lisa’s Mexican Restaurant looks like a biker bar from the outside, with its microscopic windows, spotlit sign, and ugly burglary bars facing Mission Street.
But when you step inside, you’re entering another world. Every surface but the floor is covered with goofy stuff — photos of old Mexican movie stars, life-size parrots, oversized sombreros, and creepy paintings of big-eyed children. The overall effect is like dining inside some crazy abuela’s closet, but somehow it feels cozy, not chaotic. The welcome is friendly, both from the staff and the other patrons. And the food…
Well, honestly, I don’t want to get your hopes up. Lisa’s is decidedly not gourmet, and it definitely isn’t in the same league as Fiesta del Mar. But if you’re a homesick Southern Californian pining for the cheesy combo-plates of your youth, Lisa’s will fill your heart and belly in a way that you’ve never experienced north of the Grapevine. Their chile relleno sauce is just right (it’s the kind with chunks of celery like you see absolutely everywhere in L.A.) and their crispy tacos are dynamite. The best thing we’ve had at Lisa’s — and I am embarrassed to admit, we’ve been back almost every week since we discovered it – is their chile verde. Cameron likes to ask for it in their Lisa’s Especial, a football-sized ‘wet’ burrito stuffed with everything a homesick Angeleño needs to feel right again.
Sunday we crossed the bridge for brunch at our East Bay fave, Tacubaya. The spinoff of Temescal’s oft-lauded Doña Tomás, this taqueria — tucked behind Sur La Table and Café Rouge on Berkeley’s Fourth Street restaurant row — lures breakfasters into gorgeous skylit space decked out in tropical-fruit colors and natural wood surfaces. It’s a neighborly place, albeit one with a very calculated and upscale vibe, and though the crowds come out in force, the line moves fast and there’s never much of a wait for a table.
No matter what time of day we visit, we can never resist an order of churros y chocolate; other breakfast fare mostly starts and stops with so-so chilaquiles and decent variations on huevos, plus menudo on weekends. Like its O-Town sibling, Tacubaya bases its menu on local produce and sustainable meat.
Later in the day, we took a long-overdue tour of Oakland’s taco-truck scene. We used to love planning day-long taco crawls with our Seattle crew, and when we first moved back to San Francisco, we tried to get our new friends to follow suit. Various circumstances conspired against us — ranging from a surreal bout of foul weather to half the group catching one of those pandemic colds — and eventually we gave up trying to get everyone across the bay at the same time. But I’d kept my notes, adding a truck here or a cart there from time to time, and waited for the right day. And now that day had come.
We started out at the corner of 22nd and International, at a former A&W Drive-In that’s now home to not one but two taco trucks. Tacos Sinaloa features the usual assortment of meats — carnitas, chorizo, carne asada, and such — ensconsed in the eater’s choice of tacos, burritos, tortas and more. Across the parking lot, Mariscos Sinaloa offers all these plus fish tacos, tostadas de ceviche, and other seafood-based items. I opted for a taco full of deliciously meaty carnitas; Cameron had a muy sabroso shrimp taco from the other truck. Off to a good start, we ate our way up and down the boulevard, stopping at any truck where we saw more than two people in line. Our favorites: El Grullo’s tacos al pastor, Tacos Guadalajara’s shredded carnitas, and the cabeza at El Novillo in the shadow of Fruitvale BART.
Monday is a hard day to find Mexican breakfast in the City; many family-run businesses take the day off after their weekend rush. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves, so we headed to Green Chile Kitchen over in NoPa. It’s the kind of storefront cafe you find in nearly every San Francisco neighborhood: Wood tables, tall windows, a chalkboard menu, and a tall counter where you place your order.
Sadly, the food’s no better than average, and it’s definitely Southwestern rather than Mexican. But they use quality ingredients (mostly organic produce, Niman Ranch meats, and Fulton Valley chicken) and there’s good coffee, easy street parking, and a pleasant little vibe.
As we were leaving NoPa, the once-cloudy day turned sunny, so we grabbed the dogs and headed back to the Mission. There’s nothing better on a bright winter afternoon than a lazy meander down the eastern stretch of 24th Street, where you can walk and shop for hours without hearing a single word of English. When we’d finally gotten our appetites back, Cameron entertained the pups while I popped into Tortas Los Picudos, a cheerful slice of chaos where they sell grilled Mexican sandwiches and licuados (which many shops translate as “milkshakes” although they’re really more like smoothies).
Fillings at Los Picudos run the gamut from basic ham-and-American or turkey-and-Swiss to belly busters like the Cubana. A very distant relation to the medianoche you may be used to, Los Picudos’ porcine homage to La Isla includes roast pork, ham, queso fresco, lettuce, jalapeños, mayonnaise, butter… and a foot-long hotdog! We wisely chose to split a spicy pulled-pork torta, and picked up a Mexican Coke at Casa Lucas on our way back up the block.
By the time we were hungry again, our options on a Monday night had diminished to a handful of late-night taquerias. Wanting to make sure we ended our weekend of gluttony on a high note, we popped down the hill to our nearby favorite, El Gran Taco Loco. Sandwiched in between a hard-liver bar and our local branch of Cole Hardware, Taco Loco has won our hearts despite its interrogation-room lighting, uncomfortable booths, and goofball murals.
We long ago discovered that the burritos and other semi-Americanized offerings at Taco Loco aren’t much to write home about, but their tacos — and most specifically, their carnitas tacos — are a thing of beauty and a joy forever. (Or at least the next 4 to 6 hours.) Cameron’s a huge fan of their birria, — a goaty, dark-chile-flavored soup that’s good for whatever ails you on a Sunday morning. But for our last meal of the long weekend, we kept it simple: A carnitas super-taco for me, and a buche taco for the bald guy. It certainly wasn’t the best meal of the bunch, but a late-night snack at our neighborhood favorite was definitely a fitting end to a gastronomical journey that spanned three area codes.
901 South Van Ness
San Francisco, CA 94110
170 O’Farrell Street, Macy’s basement level
San Francisco, CA 94103
Fiesta del Mar
1005 N. Shoreline Blvd
Mountain View CA 94043
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (Embarcadero at Market)
San Francisco, CA
Lisa’s Mexican Restaurant
6582 Mission Street (near John Daly Blvd)
Daly City, CA 94014
1788 4th Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Tacos Sinaloa / Mariscos Sinaloa
International Blvd & 22nd Avenue
Oakland, CA 94601
International Blvd & 26th Avenue
Oakland, CA 94601
International Blvd & 44th Avenue
Oakland, CA 94601
Tacos El Novillo
1001 Fruitvale Avenue
Oakland, CA 94610
Green Chile Kitchen
601 Baker Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
Tortas Los Picudos
2969 24th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
El Gran Taco Loco
3306 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Dia de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is a bit of a misnomer, especially in Mexico where the festivities are often spread out over two or more days. Like most Latino holidays of a spiritual sort, this fiesta integrates indigenous traditions alongside Catholic feasts, blending traditional pre-Hispanic ancestor worship with the Europeans’ All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Children and other innocents are remembered on November 1, and those who died as adults are honored the next day and night. As someone for whom death is a relatively fresh memory, setting aside a few days to remember those we have lost seems eminently wise, a useful way of mourning together and acknowledging individual loss as part of a universal experience.
The celebration — somehow more intimate and yet more festive than Halloween — gives people time to openly remember their dearly departed, and many Mexican and Mexican-American families erect memorial altars in their homes. These ofrendas typically feature a photo of the deceased surrounded by candles, glasses of water, vases of marigolds, small statues of saints or skeletons, decorated sugar skulls, and plenty of food. In addition to the rich bread known as pan de muerto, altar offerings often include moles or other fragrant dishes, bottles of beer or tequila, and other treats to tempt the spirits of the departed to return for a visit home.
Not far from our house, the streets around 24th and Mission are filled with shoppers stocking their altars: The craft stores sell skeleton figurines and papel picado, the florists put out bunches and buckets of marigolds, the panaderias set up tables of pan de muertos on the sidewalk, and the smell of incense fills the air. The mood is festive and the decorations colorful, and tonight, there’ll be a festive parade through the heart of the Mission. What a civilized way to celebrate life’s ultimate certainty.
One of the most recognizable symbols of the fiesta is La Calavera de la Catrina, the fancy-lady skeleton. As with many macabre figures in Mexican folk art, La Catrina serves as a reminder that death comes for us all, even the well-to-do and the beautiful. But La Catrina doesn’t let her mortality stand in the way of a good time: She dons her best plumed hat and heads out for a jaunty stroll. Although La Catrina is, herself, dead, she looks so much like a storybook widow-in-black that it’s hard to remember that she’s actually the deceased, not the mourner. No wonder she feels so festive! If you catch her in the right moment, she might just give you a…
1-1/4 oz Calvados or other apple brandy
3/4 oz Benedictine
3/4 oz yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry, or a sugar skull.
Sure, sure… we’ve all heard the swooning coming from the assembled masses lining up outside Bi-Rite Creamery. (And yes, we’re in awe of their salt-caramel ice cream, just like everyone else.) But waaayyyy down at the other end of The Mission, there’s another ice-cream shop that’s packing them in every night, just like they have since the kids in line sported white bobby socks and greased hair.
Although the days when Mitchell’s used milk from its own dairy farm are long gone, each flavor is still made on the premises in small-batch freezers. More than 50 state-fair ribbons and medals on the wall tell the story of the family’s commitment to quality.
You won’t find any honey-lavender or soy-chai scoops here, but that doesn’t mean that Mitchell’s doesn’t get its gourmet groove on. The shop’s biggest claim to fame may be its roster of tropical flavors, sporting tongue-twister names like langka, macapuno, and lucuma, alongside a longer list of ‘standard’ (but still interesting) tastes. Reading the menu’s like a trip around the globe: Thai tea, Mexican chocolate, and New York Cherry are just three options. Feeling cocktailian? Rum raisin, Kahlua, and mojito might do the trick. A set of flavors rotates seasonally; peach holds court today, but pumpkin can’t be far off.
Go ahead, take a number. You’ve got plenty of time to decide…
Mitchell’s Ice Cream
688 San Jose Avenue (at 29th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
I just loves me some lunch at a pub, I do I do. To be fair, I love eating at the bar just about anywhere. But a pub lunch is special: a good one is an oasis of calm happiness, and a great one can transform an entire day.
The Napper Tandy in the Mission District of San Francisco falls solidly into the “good” category. On the right day, it might make a serious push for “great”. The Tandy has all the trappings of the sort of place that on Friday and Saturday nights serves raunchily named shooters to the loudly drunk. But in the afternoon and early evening, it attracts locals, laborers, and workers either on their way to or returning from shifts at other food-service businesses.
There’s a happy mix of beer on draft: nothing too adventurous, but you can get Smithwick’s and Guinness pulled with reasonable skill. The menu has plenty of choices and, if the fish-and-chips are any indication, the kitchen can be trusted. To be fair, it’s unlikely that any of the food at the Napper Tandy is as first-rate as the fresh, house-cut chips. But those chips are so damn good that even getting close to the mark would be a worthy accomplishment.
The Napper Tandy
3200 24th Street
San Francisco, 94110
Somehow, this became the week of braised meat. In addition to the oxtails mentioned previously, I made carnitas.
I didn’t really grok carnitas until very recently, and I certainly wasn’t capable of cooking good ones until I found this recipe. It’s my all-time favorite Internet find for three reasons: It’s practically idiot-proof, it really works, and right in the middle it reminds you to call your mom.
That said, I often feel odd when I cook carnitas. I live near the Mission district in San Francisco, and there are roughly 2.3 million taquerias within a mile of my house. In fact, some of the best carnitas that I’ve ever had are at the taqueria that Anita and I consider our “local.” For an investment of five minutes and two dollars paid to a local business, I can get a carnitas taco that doesn’t have to step aside for anyone. Compare that with $15 or more, plus five hours of cooking. Given, it’s easy time that you can do other things with and it makes the house smell great, but five hours is five hours.
This is the same kind of thinking that eventually made me pull the plug on brewing my own beer. The scale was a little different: three days of work scattered across six or eight weeks of waiting, plus time spent cleaning and storing the gear. But the theory was the same, and the argument was completely insupportable when I could go down to the store and buy a six-pack from local boys who done good.
But what I suspect it comes down to is that I like to do things that I’m good at, even if they’re completely superfluous. Much to my chagrin — as it seems like something that a competent man should be able to do — I was never very good at brewing beer. But I can say with a total lack of modesty that my carnitas kick ass.
We started out the weekend at one of our favorite restaurants: Range. We’ve been coming here since soon after they first opened, and we — along with half of San Francisco — immediately fell in love with the coffee-rubbed pork shoulder served with creamed hominy. Then we dug deeper into the menu and found plenty of other strengths: a rotating sashimi/crudo selection, various riffs on pasta appetizers, and a bavette so good that I don’t even mind that it comes pre-sliced. (No need to comment: I know it’s supposed to be like that!)
It’s obvious that the bar staff cares a lot about how their creations get built, and comes up with specialty drinks that — although occasionally more perfect in inspiration than in execution — are some of the most creative cocktails in the city. Service is unfailingly professional and helpful, without smothering or being overly familiar — a solid balance.
The environment is half the fun of dinner at Range: It’s a little retro (industrial-meets-Art Deco, especially in the lighting), a little sexy (indirect lighting behind the backs of the banquettes) and a little hip (modern furniture, lots of brown). We like the banquettes in the main dining room quite a lot. The tables in the hallway between the bar and the main dining room, however, are a terrible place to eat: One person ends up staring at a blank wall, and the other has a view of the cooks’ heads, but none of the fun of the kitchen.
Anyway, back to Friday… Cameron started with a cocktail that featured green-tea gin, Lillet blanc, chartreuse, and lemon juice. It had potential, but needed a little something more: Cameron voted for more gin, while I thought more chartreuse. My drink was the night’s special, a mixture of Sun Gold tomatoes, Plymouth gin, elderflower syrup, and lemon juice. It was a lovely combination, and the tomato was a great ‘secret ingredient’ type of flavor, but they hadn’t seived the tomatoes, so the drink was muddied by pulp and an unappetizing layer of seeds gathered at the bottom of the glass.
Since it doesn’t get any better than mid-August when it comes to heirloom tomatoes, I opted for a salad that featured a nice assortment of varieties along with crescenza cheese and crispy breadcrumbs — an interesting contrast to the usual softness. Cameron, as usual, opted for the raw fish; the selection was paper-thin slices of sockeye salmon with avocado.
None of the newer main dishes caught my eye, so I chose the standby bavette, served with slow-roasted tomates, broccoli rabe, and an oddly refreshing horseradish sauce. Cameron’s halibut was perfectly prepared, but its corn-puree sauce was a touch strange-tasting.
To finsh the evening, we ordered the cheese plate: a perfectly ripe Roquefort served with marcona almonds and slivers of dates. The server also brought us an order of crepes with sauteed plums — presumably as an apology for her boss having lightly spritzed us with champagne earlier in the evening — served with a cardamom ice cream that I loved but Cameron studiously avoided.
All in all, we paid about $150, including tax and tip, for a thoroughly enjoyable dinner.
842 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110