St. John Bakery, London UK

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St. John Bakery

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Eccles Cake

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Brownie

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Custard Doughnut

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Cranberry Doughnut

Discarding more than half of the underwhelming leftovers from Comptoir Gourmand as I progressed down Druid Street it would not be long before I arrived at Archway 72 and with smiling faces behind piles of bread ready in wait my first of two experiences with the team of St. John would prove well deserving of accolades long received. Far more focused in scope than several of the Druid Street stalls with no more than a half dozen sweets plus a well culled collection of breads it was entirely with focus on the former that my order arose and with 9£ exchanged for four items weighing what seemed like literally 4lbs I made my way to a small park to enjoy – a wise choice considering the delicious mess soon made. Beginning first with something of a signature before trending to things more familiar it was the flaky golden shell of an Eccles Cake that first met my tooth and breaking through to a dense pocket of currants and spice I couldn’t help but smile, the flavor unlike anything found stateside though somewhat reminiscent of a fruitbread that would pair well with coffee or good cheese. Moving next to a more ‘American’ pastry offered only on Saturdays and equally well praised it was in a duo of doughnuts that I indulged and with crunchy sugar crystals overlying fluffy pockets of custard and jam I couldn’t help but reminisce of the paczki enjoyed on Fat Tuesdays past, each bite extruding filling onto my hand and the bench beneath. At this point taking a break given the day’s already substantial eating plus that yet to come it was not until a few hours later that I finally finished my sampling and although dubbed a “brownie” by the St. John team the item I actually encountered was something far more – a sort of fudge or ganache infused into a nearly-flourless chocolate base that slowly melted on the tongue.

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RECOMMENDED: Eccles Cake, Saturday Doughnuts, and a Brownie as well.

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AVOID: N/A

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TIP: Later dining at St. John Restaurant be advised that both brownies and Eccles Cake can be ordered from 11am onward at the on-site bakery but served plated with accoutrements both are offered at an upcharge and frequently sell out by the end of dinner service.

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https://www.stjohngroup.uk.com/bakery/

St. John Bakery at Maltby Street Market on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Dessert, Food, London, St. John, St. John Bakery, UK, Vacation

Comptoir Gourmand, London UK

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Comptoir Gourmand

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Macaron Samples

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Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookie

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Almond Croissant

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Canele

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Bakewell Tart – Almond Tart with Raspberry

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Lamington – Victoria Sponge dipped in chocolate, rolled in coconut

Ducking out of The Table with plans to attend The Borough Market soon thwarted by a throng of early shoppers it was in a quick re-route that I found myself on Druid Street and although intending originally only to visit St. John Bakery my curiosity (and gluttony) could not help but stop by Comptoir Gourmand for a few bites en route. Technically French in concept but covering a wide swath of styles as part of a growing chain providing supply to several cafes throughout the city it was admittedly with wide eyes that I approached the garage of sweet treats and although oddly chopped gummy macaron samples should have served warning when several other options appeared average at best a five part order soon took shape, the results ranging from a horrendous frangipane hot pocket dubbed an “almond croissant” to a stellar representation of the Aussie favorite Lamington with the rest otherwise forgettable save for the sheer size of the cookie. Perhaps a victim of its own success or the product of an ‘everything to everyone’ approach suffice it to say that there is simply better pastry to be found throughout London although I obviously did not sample the lot even high volume kitchens like those at Harrod’s and Fortnum & Mason seem to be putting out a superior product on the whole.

003 - La Comptoir Gourmand (16)

RECOMMENDED: Lamington.

AVOID: Oddly, for a “French Bakery” the croissant was terrible, the macerated macarons gummy, and the canele flaccid.

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TIP: Offering free Wi-Fi, outdoor seating, and plenty of free street parking nearby I guess there is at least that incentive to stop by…

003 - La Comptoir Gourmand (21)

http://www.comptoirgourmand.co.uk/

Comptoir Gourmand Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Canele, Comptoir Gourmand, Croissant, Dessert, Food, London, Macaroon, UK, Vacation

The Table Cafe, London UK

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The Table

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Corn Fritters and Black Pudding

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Banoffee Waffle – Banana, Toffee

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Valrhona Chocolate Pancake with vanilla yogurt and seasonal berries

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As yet unaffected by jetlag having slept well and started the day with a 12-mile run along the Thames it was after a bit of right-sided driving that I found free parking in Saturday downtown London and with a spring in my step given an online menu full of promise I walked into Southwark’s “The Table” only to experience the first of several ‘bait-n-switch’ breakfasts – in this case the aforementioned brunch menu over 6 months old with no figgy pudding or hot chocolate profiteroles currently to be found. Admittedly disheartened but willing to make do given hunger pangs, the trappings of free Wi-Fi, and a staff unabashedly apologetic for mistakes reportedly unbeknownst till that day it was after several questions that an order was crafted and with good coffee, a rarity in England, soon in hand a short wait would see all three plates arrive at once…my fault for not specifying a more leisurely pace, or so it would seem. Obviously a touch more ‘American’ than many breakfasts that would follow it was largely with an eye on diversity that my meal took shape and although I personally found the famous fried corn to be far more filler than ‘fritter’ I’d be hard pressed to find fault in any of the rest – the black pudding toothsome and rich with its signature sapor while a crispy golden waffle shined under the savory sort of toffee not often seen on the other side of the Atlantic Undoubtedly a hearty meal even without other desired delicacies it was only after sampling the more regional fare that I finally delved into the oven finished pancake that came highly praised by my young server and with a toothsome texture rife in buttermilk beneath bursting berries, light yogurt, and molten dark chocolate suffice it to say my sweet tooth was satisfied…though I still hold a grudge considering the online menu continues to taunt with its offer of brunch figgy pudding at the time of this writing.

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RECOMMENDED: Banoffee Waffle, Chocolate Pancake.

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AVOID: Corn Fritters.

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TIP: Early arrival is recommended as the small space fills quickly and parties are likely to linger while the small kitchen does its work. For those chancing a drive, parking can be found for free on several side-streets on Saturday, Sunday, and Bank Holidays as well.

http://thetablecafe.com/

The Table Cafe on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, Food, London, Pancakes, Pork, The Table, The Table Cafe, UK, Vacation, Waffles

Sketch, London UK

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Sketch

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Black Croque – Squid Ink Bread, Mozzarella, Basil Oil, Tomato, Courgette

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Aged Comte Gougeres with Purple Cabbage Jam

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Foie Gras Terrine with Rhubarb Jam and Grilled Bread

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Pierre Gagnaire’s Sauternes – Sauternes Domaine Clos le Comte, Angostura 1824 Rum, Apple Juice, Cinnamon

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Champagne/Lime/Vanilla Gelee, Tuna Paste/White Sesame/Red Currant, Tartlet of Horseradish Cream/Comte/White Chocolate, Yougurt/Cous-cous/Salmon Pearls, Cumin/Almond Sable, Bread Souffle/Crab Brandade/Pink Peppercorn

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Unsalted and Citrus English Farmhouse Butters/Seeded Fig and Mini French Baguette Bread

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Morel – Creamed Morel and Spinach with Coffee / Celeriac Cubes with Sesame Seeds

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Foie Gras – Foie Gras Ravioli / Red Onions and Baby Turnips Braised with Curry

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Guinea Fowl – Roast-poached breast rubbed with lime / Almond Cream Stuffing with Colombo Spices / Sauce Turner / Seasonal Mushrooms with Swiss Chard / Golden Delicious / Durum-wheat Semolina

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Middle-England Ewe’s Milk / Stichelton / Eve’s Brick / Teamsborough / 12-yr Cheddar, Mango Chutney/Roquefort Ice Cream with Pear Veloute/Celery with Paprika/Maldon Salted Olive Oil Poached Apple

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Baba – Soaked with Iced Syrup / Lemon Jelly / Almonds / Poppy Chantilly / Red Berries / Ron Zacapa 23 Year Rum

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Vanilla Souffle – Tahitian Vanilla / Vanilla and Hojicha Tea Ice Cream / Strawberry Coulis with Milk Foam, Crystalized Sugar, Matcha Green Tea / Vanilla and Hojicha Tea Jelly with white almond paste

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Lemon-Basil Chocolate / Yuzu-Hazelnut Marshmallow / White Chocolate Meringue with Rhubarb

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Fortuitously blessed with the ability to sleep soundly on aircrafts at any time of day it was fresh off the red-eye from McCarran to Heathrow that I walked into The Parlour at Sketch and although a table laid in wait at The Lecture Room upstairs just sixty minutes later I simply could not resist the temptation to experience the ‘casual’ side of my favorite Chef’s cuisine amidst a room of intriguing design and some of London’s most beautiful people. Truly a space to see and be seen with eye catching décor at every turn it was in a trio of small plates that my Sketch experience began and served en masse at my request not a single bite underwhelmed in the least, the ethereal gougeres melting to the tongue while both the creamy liver and black brioche would not have been out of place at Michelin starred spots throughout the English capital. Already impressed with the best yet to come it was with a surprisingly smooth transition that I moved to the posh environs upstairs and having already studied the menu at length a six course tasting soon progressed, though as anyone familiar with Chef Gagnaire will know the plates hovered somewhere in the mid-twenties with concepts and flavors evolving exponentially as a well-trained staff assured I was never for want. Truly a landmark meal for many of the same reasons that I’ve enjoyed Twist and Rue Balzac in the past suffice it to say that those willing to adventure into seemingly discordant flavors are likely to be rewarded for their faith and with bitter playing a strong role in both Morels and Foie Gras while intense sweetness was well served in the indulgent $51 cocktail and a soufflé standing tall and proud the highlights of the meal were in fact the three-piece guinea fowl and a cheese cart focused on the local and unpasteurized with thick cuts and clever accoutrements unlike any I’d see elsewhere in the subsequent eight days – the unpasteurized Stichelton particularly elegant and a beautiful segue to a baba that would trump even Ducasse, the savory sesame notes playing perfect foil to smooth lemon jam while a stiff shot of rum found levity in syrup, cream, and semi-tart fruits.

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RECOMMENDED: With an ever changing menu the focus should be on plates where discrepant flavors are most prominent, Chef Gagnaire and his executive chef’s at each of his restaurants often thriving where bitter meets sweet. The cheese course and cocktail list also warrant attention compared to the rest of London’s 2-3* scene.

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AVOID: N/A, though past experience generally sees me trend away from pepper and spice in Gagnaire’s cuisine as these flavors tend to be quite prominent when utilized.

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TIP: Make time for a tour afterwards, both the Lecture Room and the rest of the building warrant exploration.

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https://www.sketch.uk.com/

Sketch Lecture Room and Library on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Coffee, Crab, Dessert, England, Foie, Food, Ice Cream, London, Sketch, Souffle, UK, Vacation

Cotogna, San Francisco CA

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Cotogna

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Focaccia

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House Cured Cod Bruschetta with Pole Beans

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Monterey Bay Squid, Cucumbers, Haricots Verts

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Grilled Shrimp with Beets and Cucumber

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Knoll Farm Fig Pizza with Gorgonzola Dolce and Arugula

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Chino Farm Corn Triangoli

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Tagliatelle with Devil’s Gulch Rabbit and Fiddlehead Ferns

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Trippa alla Fiorentina

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Wolfe Ranch Quali with Corn and Green Chickpea

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Chocolate Budino, Market Fruit, Streusel

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Located adjacent to Quince and featuring a far less Frenchified interpretation of Chef Michael Tusk’s Italian cuisine it was with plans to meet a fellow fine dining enthusiast that reservations for two were booked at Cotagna and with my companion well-known to the house it seemed only reasonable to assume the meal would be memorable – an assumption that would at least partially hold true for the food, though service left much to be desired even after taking into account my friend’s 30-minute late arrival and the addition of a third diner to an already small table. Truly a bustling spot, rich in blond woods with every seat filled as suits discussed business over the popular prix-fixe, it was just after 12:30 when our full party finally sat and with time constraints duly noted our order was expeditious, though service was anything but as long delays left us picking at bread early on and literally ‘wolfing down’ the complimentary Wolfe Ranch Quail as the clock neared 3:00pm. Fawned over by the Maitre d’ due to my table-mate but not particularly benefitted by this save for the quail served with an apology for slow service it was largely with an eye on diversity that the rest of our meal progressed and flowing from lighter flavors to those more bold a common theme emerged, the perfect produce and light saucing far outperforming proteins I found to be generally overcooked and underportioned given the price – the tender tripe a lone exception, though still not on par with that at A16 or Delfina. Focusing on the strengths of the meal it bears mention that the wood fired pizza deserves high praise for its seamless marriage of savory and sweet atop a smoky crust while Tusk’s team again showed a deft hand with filled pastas in the silky Triangoli filled with what can best be described as cream corn veloute rife with butter and just a touch of aged cheese. Certainly not a ‘bad’ meal by any means but one that could most certainly have been better both in food and service suffice it to say that I won’t be rushing back to Cotagna given the high quality of the Bay Area’s mid-range Italian scene but I’d also not dissuade others from giving it a chance, particularly those interested in focusing on pasta but not yet willing to go all-in at the dual Michelin starred spot next door.

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RECOMMENDED: Filled Pastas, Pizza

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AVOID: Meat-heavy Secondi, Shellfish prone to losing texture with overcooking.

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TIP: It should be noted that my visit occurred with a recent change in the kitchen and this may have been partially responsible for service delays and preparation mistakes. Perhaps giving the kitchen some time to re-find its legs is in order, though from my standpoint this is one of those situations where Tusk should be present making sure things are ‘right’ until the ship can sail itself.

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http://www.cotognasf.com/

Cotogna on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, California, Cotogna, Dessert, Food, Italian, Pizza, San Francisco, Vacation

Hooker’s Sweet Treats, San Francisco CA

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Hooker’s Sweet Treats

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Big Easy Bread Pudding with Raisins, Pecans, and Melted Caramel

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie with Melted Caramel

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Caramel Bar with Cashew, Dark Chocolate, Smoked Sea Salt, and Buttered Caramel

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Sweet Cheddar Scone

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Located just a few blocks from my hotel and garnering praise for their dark chocolate caramels since 2010 it was largely for airplane snacks that I visited David “Hooker” Williams’ small store before flying out on Tuesday afternoon and as much as the trio of bagged items would trump anything at SFO or LAS it was what I ordered in house that instantly placed Hooker’s Sweet Treats on my rather short Bay Area “must return” list along with Knead, Humphry Slocombe, b.patisserie, and Saison. Small in size and surprisingly hip in feel despite the Tenderloin locale a visit to Hooker’s will likely entail a short walk amidst some of the area’s most unfortunate yet once inside the cozy confines a more pleasant scene unfolds with wood and hues of blue strewn in NOLA-themed décor while notes of vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar permeate the air. By all definitions an artisan operation with Williams working both counter and kitchen it was with friendly smiles that questions were answered and taking a seat at the windowside bar it would not be long before my order arrived, the caramel still bubbling as it dripped down the side of a golden mini-loaf into a fancy shallow bowl. Generally preferring this style of pudding to more free-form versions served via slice or scoop the beauty of Hooker’s Big Easy begins in the bread – a golden eggy thing with soft custard beneath crunchy top – and spruced up with raisins along with candied pecans for taste plus texture the dish is brought to new heights in the salty buttered caramel, a flavor surprisingly not too sweet but instead ‘just right’ in allowing cinnamon notes to shine for an almost savory finish…a flavor I’d later find equally present in all three takeaways, the smoky complexity of the cashew bar particularly satisfying when paired with coffee as I awaited yet another delayed plane.

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RECOMMENDED: Bread Pudding, Cashew Caramel Bar

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AVOID: N/A

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TIP: Closed on Sundays and Mondays with somewhat limited hours throughout the rest of the week one is advised to check the website or facebook before making the trip – although safe enough during daylight hours I wouldn’t particularly wander the area at night.

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http://www.hookerssweettreats.com/

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Posted in Bread Pudding, California, Dessert, Food, Hooker's Sweet Treats, San Francisco, Vacation

b. patisserie [2,] San Francisco CA

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b.patisserie

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Blueberry Almond Peach Croissant

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Cherry Apricot Kouign Amann

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Chocolate Kouign Amann

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Raspberry Bostock

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Banana Chocolate Croissant

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Four Barrel Americano

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Rooted in French technique but possessing a particular flair for innovation with pastries whose basic forms are oft botched by lesser bakeshops it was once again on my final day in San Francisco that I made my way to b.patisserie and timing my whole morning to assure arrival as the doors unlocked my rewards were myriad – five perfect pastries with only one lacking residual heat from the oven. Taking a ’some for now and some for later’ approach which inevitably meant ‘most’ and ‘half the bostock,’ respectively, it should come as no surprise that despite my proclivity for croissants any morning at b. begins with kouign amann and taking it one step further I ended there as well – my first bite shattering a crystalline shell to yield still-liquid butter amidst tender stone fruits, my last rich with bitter-sweet ganache, and every one between as perfect as I remembered. Serving as segue between the Britton butter pastries it was to tender brioche tinged with almonds and raspberry jam that I next treated myself and setting some aside for the flight home I turned to croissants, b. again achieving the rare feat of crackling layers of pastry with cavernous separation even when packed with filling, the blend of stewed sour cherries amidst sweet apricots particularly impressive. Admittedly a fan, but having also visited a fair number of the ‘best’ food cities in America without neglecting a chance to visit praised bakeries in each, suffice it to say that item for item I’ve yet to find anyone in the country doing what Belinda Leong and her team at b.patisserie does day in and day out – a focus on perfection with eyes toward innovation that will keep me coming back again and again.

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RECOMMENDED: Kouign Amann, Croissants, Four Barrel Coffee

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AVOID: Making a mess of your shirt when you bite into a warm Kouign Amann to meet a gush of warm butter, chocolate, or fruit puree.

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TIP: Although baking fresh throughout the day your safest bet is going early when everything is fresh…or waiting for new batches as you eat something else in the cute café.

http://bpatisserie.com/

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Posted in B.Patisserie, Breakfast, California, Coffee, Croissant, Dessert, Food, Four Barrel, San Francisco, Vacation

Fillmore Bakeshop, San Francisco CA

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Fillmore Bakeshop

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Almond Croissant

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Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding

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Cinnamon Brioche Swirl

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Chocolate Chip and Almond Cookie

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Raspberry and Mocha Macarons

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Pecan Pie Bar

Slotted in the unenviable position of early breakfast on my last half-day in town I’d be lying if I claimed Fillmore Bakeshop to be anything more than a convenient curiosity en route from my hotel to b.patisserie yet with a friendly staff and comparatively low prices to the rest of San Francisco the small storefront actually managed a pair of delicious highs amidst otherwise mediocre offerings and air-pocketed macarons overloaded with sugary paste and far worse than those of many home cooks. Obviously an ‘everything to everyone’ sort of place with French pastry lined up along favorites from the American Kitchen it should probably come as no surprise that items warm from the kitchen would prove amongst Fillmore’s strongest and beginning there the croissant was a fairly good start with nature’s subtlety replacing sticky frangipane amidst crispy curls and moving on to the brioche bun a similar crunch was found, though this time giving way to a springy buttered core liberally dressed in cinnamon sugar. Saving cookies and ‘pie’ for later only to be underwhelmed in each it was last during my visit that my attention turned to the ‘still-too-hot-too-eat’ bread pudding and still my very favorite type of dessert no matter how ‘simple’ to prepare this particular version proved lovely – a big scoop fresh from the pan teaming with custard-laced old croissants, fresh bananas, and intense dark chocolate beneath a lightly toasted top.

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RECOMMEND: Bread Pudding, Cinnamon Brioche Swirl

AVOID: Macarons, Cookies.

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TIP: Bread pudding is available daily at opening with later day baking focusing on pies and cakes, though occasionally a second batch will be made. Flavors vary daily and reportedly included blueberry-peach and strawberry-banana most recently.

http://fillmorebakeshop.com/

Fillmore Bakeshop on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Pudding, Breakfast, California, Croissant, Dessert, Fillmore Bakeshop, Food, Macaroon, San Francisco, Vacation

Baker & Banker, San Francisco CA

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Baker & Banker

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Chateau de Malla Sauternes 1999

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Bohemian Creamery Capriago & Boho Belle, dried fruit compote, Candied Ginger Bread

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Stone Fruit Crisp, Brown Sugar Oatmeal Streusel, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

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Blueberry Bread Pudding, Crème Fraiche Sherbet, Buttermilk Caramel

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Mr. Espresso French Press

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Warm Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie, Salted Caramel Ice Cream, Hot Fudge

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XXX – Triple Dark Chocolate Layer Cake with Devil’s Food, Cheese Cake, and Flourless

Having missed out on the highly praised but short-lived brunch service from the Wife & Husband team of Lori Baker & Jeff Banker yet ever intrigued by the cozy space on Octavia Street it was through gluttonous eyes that I’d been stalking their online menu leading up to my visit to San Francisco and with daily updates dictated by seasonality and sustainability one could call June 16th my lucky day – a pair of new desserts joining the classics I’d coveted. Originally planning a ‘proper’ meal but giving this more thought as I walked up from the Mission it would be mere moments before my designated time that I arrived and surprisingly met by Chef Baker upon entry a seat was soon procured – the rest of the space filled in capacity as well as lively conversation while a small staff including the chefs themselves tended to guests’ needs. Largely brasserie in feel with rustic touches adding warmth it would not be long before my lovely young waitress arrived with a menu and after pretending to peruse I let my intentions be known – a wide smile and “sounds fantastic” the appropriate response to an order consisting solely of wine, cheese, coffee, and desserts. Obviously amused by my order and apparently taking bets regarding my ability to finish as a sniffed the small glass of fragrant Sauternes it was in a duet of local cheeses plus housemade accoutrements that the night began and with both cuts quite generous I sampled each slowly until the ‘real’ show commenced – a first serve ace arriving in bubbling pluots, peaches, and plums beneath buttery crumbs and slowly melting vanilla. Preferring a progression pairing fruits with wine and coffee with cocoa it was in the second sweet course that I held the highest expectations and having heard rumor of the team’s breakfast bread pudding I was not let down when the tender brioche presented almost supersaturated with custard beneath a golden crown as tangy ice cream worked overtime to keep sweetness in check, the end result something akin to a molten blueberry muffin and therefore an inspired textural segue to the reference-standard cast iron cookie that threw caution to the wind regarding sweetness and proved all the better for it. At this point sipping coffee and conversing with the bemused couple beside me it was just past nine o’clock when Chefs Baker & Banker together arrived to put their signature on the table and stacked high with a quenelle of whip cowering in its dark shadow the only thing sinful about the “XXX” was that it signified the end of a great night I’d put off for far too long.

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RECOMMENDED: Dessert, particularly the bread pudding.

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AVOID: N/A.

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TIP: Unbeknownst to me, in addition to the online menu which is updated daily, Baker & Banker also offers a $45 3-course set menu each night – a veritable steal considering the ingredients, portions, and quality of the restaurant.

http://www.bakerandbanker.com/

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Posted in Baker & Banker, Baker and Banker, Bread Pudding, California, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, San Francisco, Vacation

Locanda, San Francisco CA

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Locanda

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Grilled Pizza Bianca

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Grilled Pizza Bianca with house mortadella and pickled ramps

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Rigatoni alla Carbonara – Guanciale, Tully Doici Egg, Pecorino, Black Pepper

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Pancetta-Wrapped Guinea Hen Leg – White Polenta, Grilled Turnips

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Flavorosa Pluot Almond Torta – Blueberry Swirl Buffala Gelato, Nebbiolo Plum Sauce

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Admittedly sampling the Cal-Italian scene heavily on most of my trips to The Bay Area and having found greatness to be more consistent here than elsewhere in the States it was the largely the Roman style of cuisine that originally piqued my interest in Locanda and after several intriguing afternoon sessions at the conference my Monday double-feature dinner would take me back to the Mission where always beckon but the early-summer menu could not be ignored. Open just fifteen minutes when I arrived and as yet unfilled it was in the warm sun of the front window that I opted to sit and although the long, narrow space was amped up with unnecessary music the room never grew too loud – a serene effect unlike that of Delfina, Cotagna, or A16 despite the high ceilings and substantial wood. Seemingly a bit more of a ‘locals’ place than other highly praised places of the ilk it would not be long after seating that my menu was delivered and chatting up the charming server about several indecisions an order was placed – her recommendations matching my predispositions letter for letter and leaving me in wait as I grazed on glistening pillows of warm bread with a second board soon arriving draped in nutty peppered pork invigorated by bright pickled ramps. Already impressed by the charcuterie it was within moments of my finishing the mortadella that my al dente primi arrived and although pre-mixed in the kitchen with yolk already beginning to thicken the quality of the guanciale could not be ignore, a small portion going a long way and leaving ample room for the substantial secondi of force-meat stuffed leg beneath crisp pork atop toothsome polenta sopping up the bird’s juices. Never one to skimp on sweets but in this rare case with eyes on my appetite’s future it was between a duo of selections that I debated and again turning tableside for recommendations my assumption proved true, a rich almond and cornmeal cake as soft as pudding arriving five minutes later with slight grassy notes from the gelato proving a deft foil to sweet stone fruits.

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RECOMMENDED: Apparently a famous dish frequent to the menu with seasonal variants the Guinea Hen should not be missed.

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AVOID: Even had the pasta not been underportioned for the price I contest that a proper carbonara should be mixed tableside – preferably by the diner.

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TIP: Reservations seemed unnecessary at first but by the time I left at 6:40 every seat was filled…even on a Monday.

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http://www.locandasf.com/

Locanda on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, California, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Italian, Locanda, Pizza, Pork, San Francisco, Vacation

Kin Khao, San Francisco CA

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Kin Khao

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Thai Iced Tea

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Thai Iced Coffee

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Pretty Hot Wings – Man Pla Fish Sauce, Garlic Marinade, Tamarind, Sriracha Glaze

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Fried Quail with Chili Jam and Sticky Rice

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Khao Yum Kai Dao – Fried Duck Eggs over Rice, Chili Jam, Peanuts, Shallots, Mint, Cilantro

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Black Rice Pudding – Warm coconut, burnt coconut sugar caramel, salty coconut cream, puffed rice + peanut + sesame praline

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Owned by Pim Techamuanvivit and reportedly offering authentic tastes of cuisine from her native Thailand prepared from the sustainable farms of San Francisco it was only after a security guard of the Parc 55 Hotel showed me the way that I finally located Kin Khao and with the restaurant nearly empty during an early Monday lunch it was to my choice of tables that I was soon seated, the blogger-turned-restaurateur mostly walking the room and tending to beau David Kinch while a fledgling staff offered up a menu substantially shortened from that offered at night. Modern yet pleasant in design with wood and white dominating the décor as a small kitchen tinkered and clinked just out of sight it was perhaps five minutes before the afternoon’s sole server arrived at my side and having already noted the missing mushroom jar I inquired to its availability only to be denied, a pair of lunch specials offered along with eight other savories from which I selected three along with the menu’s lone sweet. Stating up front that both the lunch menu and he himself were ‘new’ it was with an error that my waiter first brought Thai Iced Tea in place of the coconut tinged cold brew I’d requested and although bright with tamarind a few sips was enough, the creamy java far better fitting my palate as well as the opening volley of three funky wings themselves quite hefty in the orange Indian aromatic amidst a sauce of acid and spice. Explaining that I was really in no hurry as the meal marched on it was next in the daily special of fried quail that I partook and although quite crispy the flavor itself lacked, a touch of Pim’s chili jam enlivening things a bit while slightly sweet rice was a filler par for the course. Moving onward to one of five items under the section labeled “eats” it was with admitted indecision that I selected between the Khao Mun Gai and Khao Yum Kai Dao but eventually opting for crispy duck eggs over the chef-recommended ‘chicken fat fried rice’ I can only assume I made the right choice, the runny yolks acting to meld a multitude of complex flavors while bold textures arrived in each bite. At this point admittedly eavesdropping on the conversation of the doubly Michelin Starred chef just two seats away as he chatted with a friend about the ballgame they were in town to attend it was just under an hour and ten minutes after I sat down that my final plate arrived and served steaming from the kitchen though I cannot attest to just how ‘authentic’ any of it was I can definitively declare the rice pudding as excellent, an $8 portion big enough to share served to be dressed like an American sundae proving to be one of the top two or three takes on the dish I’ve experienced to date.

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RECOMMENDED: Rice Pudding, Khao Yum Kai Dao.

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AVOID: Fried Quail

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TIP: Still new in their lunch service and featuring a far more extensive menu at night those looking to experience Kin Khao at its best may be better served to book a dinner reservation or call in advance to inquire about specific plates.

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http://kinkhao.com/

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Posted in California, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Kin Khao, San Francisco, Vacation

Town’s End Restaurant and Bakery, San Francisco CA

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Town’s End Restaurant and Bakery

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Complimentary Pastry Basket – Peach and Banana Nut Muffins, Raisin Scone, Strawberry Jam

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French Toast Sampler with Egg, Whole Wheat, Raisin Walnut Bread

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Grilled Polenta

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Exiting Bonjour Patisserie and turning right it was in the warm morning sun that I walked on Townsend towards the Embarcadero and literally reaching the end of Townsend I found my destination – the appropriately titled Town’s End. Clearly a clever bunch and offering a menu with plenty I figured to fancy it was to a surprisingly long, multiple-leveled dining room that I arrived and with only a few patrons present amidst a sea of white tablecloths I was given my choice of seats, a cozy two-top toward the back but overlooking the front my eventual choice. Oft cited for their complimentary basket of miniature pastries to start it was within a matter of seconds that a quartet in three flavors arrived but with only the peach muffin trumping a typical hotel’s continental options I felt a little underwhelmed – a trend only to continue as proper plates arrived. Slow but smiling in service, a leisurely place to linger for some, it was after nearly twenty-five minutes that my order landed on the table and with a cheery “enjoy” from my waitress I tried my best – the polenta underportioned for the price but nicely prepared while homemade breads dipped in batter came off as eggy and dry – a combination done no favors by the lackluster ‘syrup’ that only further made three different breads taste no better than that from Wonder.

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RECOMMENDED: Peach Muffin

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AVOID: French Toast.

TIP: For those in a hurry there is a small bakery counter up front, the mini-muffins at 40-cents seemingly a safe option for those on the run.

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http://www.townsendrb.com/

Town's End Restaurant and Bakery on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Breakfast, California, Food, French Toast, San Francisco, Town’s End, Town’s End Restaurant and Bakery, Vacation

Bonjour Patisserie, San Francisco CA

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Bonjour Patisserie

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Almond Croissant

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Bostock

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Blueberry Financier

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Canele

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Chocolate and Coffee Éclair

Selected for early morning pastry due to its SoMA location combined with the fact that several of my San Francisco favorites are closed on Monday it was just after the break of day that I walked into Bonjour Patisserie and although a locally-owned business nothing about the décor or still service could shake the corporate feel of the Adobe-adjacent space. Small in size and still stocking the shelves as I entered it was presumably the owner and baker that I soon met and eyeing me suspiciously without even a hello as I perused the pastries a ‘can I help you?’ eventually emerged – three items for now with two taken to go my eventual order. Still impersonal as goods were packed and stared versus glared at as I snapped a few photos it was first in the croissant that I partook and although slightly over-sweetened the laminated layers gave way with good break to wispy insides perfumed with light frangipane, but not overly so. Moving next to more time-sensitive selections the sizeable canele would prove admirable in its springy custard despite a slightly soft shell while an espresso glazed éclair with rich chocolate cream showed Bonjour’s command of choux. At this point packing bags for a proper breakfast with more tasting to come at a conference break it was again without words until I said my “thanks” that I passed the counter and as much as I dislike passing praise onto such an inhospitable place I must say that both the toothsome financier and buttery bostock proved excellent nearly four hours later, though the later did make quite the mess of another Moscone Center table.

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RECOMMENDED: Bostock and Financier.

AVOID: Decent, but trumped by several of San Francisco’s best, I’d pass on the canele and croissant unless focused solely on convenience.

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TIP: Featuring soups and sandwiches later in the day along with some bagged grab-and-go options amidst an area somewhat devoid of better it came as no surprise that other patrons were obviously ‘regulars,’ yet even then service seemed strained to speak or smile – odd considering a name like Bonjour.

http://www.facebook.com/BonjourPatisserie

Posted in Bonjour Patisserie, Breakfast, California, Canele, Croissant, Dessert, Food, San Francisco, Vacation

Hard Water, San Francisco CA

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Hard Water

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Oregon Pink Shrimp Hushpuppies – Lemon and Herb Mayonnaise

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Stoneground Grits – Cabot Cheddar, Cultured Butter

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Almond Flour Fried Chicken, Buttermilk Waffles, Pepper Jelly

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Whiskey Kiss – Caramel Covered Marshmallow

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Again pulling double duty to give due diligence to an ever expanding culinary ‘to-do’ list it was nearly two-hours after exiting Stone’s Throw that I cozied up to the center island of the wharf’s “Hard Water” and although more celebrated for the impressive bar than the tiny kitchen I must say the N’awlins inspired cuisine was ‘none too shabby’ neither. Undoubtedly a swanky spot for booze amongst the Bay area’s elite but a bit empty In the waning hours of Father’s Day 2014 it was with wide eyes followed by wide-angle lens that I gazed on the wall of whiskey and although not my spirit of choice the collection deserves credit, as did the low pressure bartenders who seemed just as happy chat while I sipped water as they were to pour a $100+ shot. Somewhat limited, or perhaps more so ‘well-culled,’ in its culinary offerings it was with much debate that I perused the menu of sustenance and bearing in mind the long day past it was in a quartet of items I partook – six ping-pong balls of fried cornmeal dense with sweet shrimp and a shallow bowl of exceeding creamy grits kicking things off. At this point happily sated but still with room to spare it was only after a thirty minute delay due to several late arrivals that my final course was delivered and as much as I’d have preferred the re-toasted waffle fresh from an iron the salt-cured fried bird left little room to quibble as crispy seasoned skin shattered to tooth giving way to supple flesh dripping with juices I greedily mopped up with waffles slathered in surprising subtle jam…an adjective in no way applicable to the tiny two-dollar and fifty cent feather-light caramel tinged with booze.

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RECOMMENDED: Fried Chicken, Grits.

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AVOID: With only one dessert and the pricey ‘kiss’ dessert is better sought elsewhere while the waffle could be improved if prepped to order.

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TIP: One of the few spots open in the area and unfortunately sharing a commode with others in the building there were several panhandlers in the area that night and although largely innocuous one is best to be mindful when walking in isolated areas en route to the restroom where several were camped out.

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http://hardwaterbar.com/

Hard Water on Urbanspoon

Posted in California, Dessert, Food, Hard Water, San Francisco, Vacation, Waffles

Stone’s Throw, San Francisco CA

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Stone’s Throw

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Crispy Tomato Cream Wafers – Crushed Fava Bean Dip

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Puffed Potato and Eggs – Cauliflower Mousse, Chives, Crispy Chicken Skin

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Duck Pate and Mousse – French’s Mustard, Cornichons, Warm Soft Pretzels

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Warm Octopus & Okonomiyaki Pancake – Bacon Dashi, Spicy Turnips, Marinated Mushrooms

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Crispy 38 North Duck Breast & Duck Taquito – Roasted Fennel, Braised Rhubarb, Pistachio Butter

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Chocolate Bananas Foster – Warm Brown Sugar Soaked Bananas, Frozen Chocolate Covered Banana Milkshake, Chocolate Brownies, Bubbling Walnut-Caramel

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Peanut Butter and Jelly Donuts – Brioche Beignets, Peanut Butter, Milk Chocolate, Grape Jelly

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Again planning a double-duty dinner it was mere moments before 5:30 that I arrived to find the doors of Jason Kirmse and Cy Hia’s Stone’s Throw already unlocked and although having missed out on Fat Angel during previous Bay Area dining adventures I entered with high expectations – two of my Saison servers having described Chef Jason Halverson’s cuisine as “so delicious, so fun” with desserts “like a fat kid’s paradise.”  Deceptively large despite its tree-shaded façade on Hyde Street with an up-front bar, open kitchen in back, plus hip yet exceedingly well trained staff at every turn it was to a monthly-changing menu that I soon found myself challenged and with nearly every dish something I’d consider ordering elsewhere hard decisions were made – a half-dozen plates increased +1 by a gift from the kitchen without a single disappointing bite in the bunch. Divided largely into bites, appetizers, larger plates, and sweets it was first the gift of light tomato chips and creamed broad beans that I began and moving next to things more substantial both the molten centered puffs and silky liver would prove oddly reminiscent of simpler things refined – the former harkening a “loaded” baked potato while the later, slathered on a warm pretzel, invoked memories of Big Mac…but in a good way. Clearly leaning on concepts of ethnic comforts it was next in tender Pacific octopus grilled and set adjacent to a savory pancake served with condiments that I found my favorite savory of the evening and only slightly less impressed by rosy duck melded to seasonal vegetables by smoky nut butter it was onto desserts I progressed – that “fat kid” comment immediately making sense as a box at the bottom of the menu requested customer’s childhood favorites. At this point warned twice by my waiter that I had overordered it was at my insistence that a duo of desserts arrived and beginning with four pillowy beignets finding their flavor inspired by many kids’ lunch the light cocoa cream proved an admirable segue to the NOLA tilted brownie sundae – the flambéed sauce poured tableside to melt a frozen cylinder into a rich pudding far more interesting than anything I experienced at Brennan’s.

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RECOMMENDED: Puffed Potatoes are a mainstay – order them – while the rest is subject to change. If you see the Okonomiyaki I’d strongly suggest it…and dessert(s)

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AVOID: N/A

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TIP: Taking inspiration from patrons for dessert the restaurant offers a free visit to concepts selected…I also have it on good word that brunch is fantastic and whenever I’m next in town I fully plan to disprove my server’s assertion that he has never seen anyone finish the butter-fried pancakes on their own.

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http://stonesthrowsf.com/

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Posted in California, Dessert, Foie, Food, Ice Cream, Octopus, Pancakes, San Francisco, Stone’s Throw, Vacation

R&G Lounge, San Francisco CA

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R&G Lounge

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Hot Tea

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Salt and Pepper Crab

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Egg Custard with Mussels

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Peking Duck

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Walnut Shrimp

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Cold Plate – Ham, Vegetarian Goose

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Cold Plate – Borurbon Squab

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Frequently featured in articles referencing the “Best of the Bay” but always falling short of my personal “short list” as I awaited additional diners with whom I could share it was finally a Father’s Day lunch with a former colleague and her family that brought me to R&G Lounge and with both service and cuisine that pleased three immigrants from mainland China, two Midwesterners, and even a child I must say the restaurant lived up to the press. Truly a ‘destination’ restaurant for Asian families and all the more so for a holiday lunch it was with a bit of luck that I landed the reservation for a six-top with only two week’s notice and quickly seated in a room beneath the streets of Chinatown upon our 11am arrival it was clear expeditious ordering would be to our benefit – a seven plate meal served in five courses with clockwork timing while surrounding tables sat in wait. Beginning with tea and focusing largely on signature plates plus a few of my friends’ family favorites it was in R&G’s fabled fried crab that we began and with light batter laden with spice overlying the crustacean’s sweet flesh everyone at the table smiled, a similar effect generated by the cold-plate trio whose ham and ‘goose’ wowed while the boozy whole-bird found more favor with my friends than it did with me. Still licking fingers and picking at the crab’s crisp carapace it would not be long before more shellfish arrived and this time trending sweet it would pose a difficult decision whether to focus on snappy shrimp with caramelized walnuts or mussel studded egg pudding, particularly bearing in mind that yet to come – a crispy whole duck with plenty of bao that was carved in the kitchen but still piping hot and rich with fat and flavor to round out a truly memorable meal in setting, service, friendship, and food.

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RECOMMENDED: Salt and Pepper Crab, Walnut Prawns, Mussel Custard.

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AVOID: Squab was far too boozy for me and although apparently a traditional dish even my friend commented that this was a more potent preparation than most.

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TIP: Dessert consists of only ice cream so those in need of something sweet may look elsewhere – Golden Gate Bakery is nearby as are several other traditional Asian alternatives…plus the rest of the San Francisco’s remarkable patisseries, bakeries, and scoop shops.

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http://rnglounge.com/

R & G Lounge on Urbanspoon

Posted in California, Crab, Food, Pork, R&G Lounge, San Francisco, Vacation

Flour & Co, San Francisco CA

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Flour & Co

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Cinnamon Pecan Coffee Cake

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Sticky Bun with Pecan-Walnut Caramel

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Savory Cornbread – Corn, Onions, Chives

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Oatmeal Praline Cookie

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Chocolate Chunk Cookie

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French Toast Sandwich – Lightly Sweetened Cream Cheese, Raspberry Jam, Cinnamon Swirl

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Carrot Cake – Pecans, Walnuts, Raisins, Pineapple, Cream Cheese Frosting

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Moving on from Mymy it was a quick trip up Nob Hill to Flour & Co that again saw me fraught with temptation and with owner Emily Day hard at work in the kitchen while her delightful staff promised me “everything” was delicious I quickly succumbed to my whims – a seven item order serving in part as a continuation of breakfast with the rest saved for dessert after lunch. All natural and largely locally purveyed it was with a duo of items that my tasting began and although the toasty sandwich of housemade jam on fresh baked bread with a touch of cream cheese was lovely the carrot cake set a new standard – its moist crumb rife spice and so well packed with nuts, carrots, and dried fruit that one wondered if there was any filler or flour at all. Moving on to more after a Father’s Day lunch with friends at R&G it was with toothsome and herbaceous cornbread that I started and with the savory option showing equally impressive as prior items it was back to sweets I turned, the crisply rimmed cookies giving way to tender centers while toasty sugared pecans crowned dense coffee-cake and an very sticky brioche swirl.

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RECOMMENDED: Carrot Cake, Cornbread, French Toast Sandwich.

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AVOID: While nothing was even remotely subpar bad there are simply better cookies and sticky buns to be had in the San Francisco when there is so much else to explore at Flour & Co.

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TIP: Featuring Free Wi-Fi and several prepped-to-order selections with seating for no more than twenty an early arrival or off-peak visit is recommended for those desiring to dine-in.

http://flourandco.com/

Flour + Co. on Urbanspoon

Posted in Breakfast, California, Cornbread, Dessert, Flour & Co, Flour and Co, Food, French Toast, San Francisco, Vacation

Mymy, San Francisco CA

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Mymy

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Banana Blueberry Souffle Pancake – Vanilla Curd, Candied Walnut

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Vanilla Sponge French Toast – Butterscotch Drizzle, Bananas, Strawberries, Blueberries

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Featuring a surprisingly similar menu to breakfast on day one and interestingly located cattycorner to the awful Olea where I’d dined the year prior it was early Sunday morning when I entered mymy and seated quickly at the wallside counter a familiar order took shape. Small in size with a semi-open kitchen where a young Asian line cook worked diligently firing plate after plate as the small staff attended to each guest’s needs with a cheerful vibe it was seemingly seconds between dinging bells indicating ‘order up’ and starting with downy-soft pancakes sandwiching rich vanilla curd with decorative berry puree and candied nuts I swooned – a texture even lighter than those from Griddle Fresh with fruit flavors far more poignant enlivening every bite. Moving next to French toast but this time eschewing the boule it was next the “vanilla sponge” that greeted my palate and although slightly more bready than I’d have preferred at its core the caramelized crackle of the golden exterior proved excellent while butterscotch sauce and fresh berries rendered maple syrup irrelevant.

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RECOMMENDED: Much like Griddle Fresh, you’re here for the pancakes.

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AVOID: Arriving after 8:30 on weekends – limited seating and those prone to linger had already generated a thirty minute wait list when I exited just prior to 9am.

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TIP: Working in extremely small quarters quirky modifications appear to be declined, my vegan/vegetarian neighbor at the counter opting to walk out when she could not be guaranteed no animal products would come into contact with her plate.

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http://sanfrancisco.menupages.com/restaurants/mymy-coffee-shop/

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Posted in Breakfast, California, Food, French Toast, My My, Mymy, Pancakes, San Francisco, Vacation

A16, San Francisco CA

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A16

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Semolina Bread with Olive Oil

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Wild Nettle Ricotta Gnocchi – Pioppini Mushroom, Garlic, Mushroom Brodo, Herbs, Caciocavallo

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Trippa Napoletana – Onions, Tomato, Chiles, White Wine, Breadcrumbs

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Margherita – Tomato, Mozzarella, Grana Padano, Basil, Olive Oil

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Wood Fired Dry Peach Crostata – Buttermilk Sorbet

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Chocolate Budino Tart – Sea Salt, Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Owned by the same team behind Michelin starred SPQR and located steps from the Presidio a late night bite at A16 with an old friend was set to cap Saturday night but with my pal suddenly called out of town on business I was instead left to fly solo – an early arrival due to a meal shorter than expected at Nico leaving me standing amidst a crowd of walk-ins as incompetent hostesses struggled to keep tabs on a growing ‘list.’ Originally offered a seat at the Chef’s counter only to have the suggestion soon rescinded it was not until nearly thirty-five minutes later that I was informed that the bar was ‘first come, first serve, full service’ and having watched seats come and go along with another long-delayed duo it would be ten minutes more before we each procured a seat – my new friends suddenly a silver lining allowing for me to over-order and share. Still jostled from behind as more potential patrons packed the front foyer it was from the bartender that plates would soon be ordered and although substantial delays persisted to the point of being gifted a complimentary plate of creamy gnocchi I have to say the food universally justified the hassles. Conceptually based in the cuisine of Campania it was with warm semolina bread and clean, fruity olive oil that the meal got started and with aforementioned gnocchi understatedly herbal and aromatic it was with course two that flavors began to ‘pop’ – the tender tripe fully embracing a sauce of acid and wine prior to a reference standard Margherita whose springy crust bubbled up in pecan wood char with just enough aged cheese to enliven hand-crushed tomatoes and fresh-pulled mozz. Again finding myself solo as bar-mates turned elsewhere for more drinks it was simply illogical to me to eschew dessert and after debating a seasonal favorite against a 10-year classic the only right answer was “both” – the wood-oven singed puff pastry lovely and light while the dark chocolate budino proved every bit deserving of its status on many “Best of the Bay” lists – a light kiss of salt serving to enliven the fruitiness of the oil and accentuate the subtle sweetness of an otherwise intense finale.

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RECOMMENDED: Pizza, Tripe, Budino.

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AVOID: Having spent so much time waiting and witnessing several walk-outs due to late-seated reservations I’d suggest avoiding Saturday nights, though perhaps my visit was an anomaly. Pastas additionally seemed to trend small considering the prices.

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TIP: Yeah, the bar is first come, first serve, and full service even if they don’t tell you that up front…and although I’m sure they’d deny it those residing on the ‘wait list’ would be well served to check-in often as persons friendly with the staff seemed oddly capable of securing previously ‘unavailable’ seats up front shortly after walking in.

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http://www.a16sf.com/

A16 on Urbanspoon

Posted in A16, Bread Basket, California, Dessert, Food, Gnocchi, Ice Cream, Italian, Pizza, San Francisco, Vacation

Nico, San Francisco CA

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Nico

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Hearth Bread

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Stone Fruit Colada – Rum, Coconut, Pineapple, Sage

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Panisse – Squash

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Duck Liver Pate – Asian Pear, Crouton

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Potato – Egg, Porcini, Beaufort

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Apricots, Pistachio Cake, Goat’s Milk Ice Cream

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Port Poached Cherries, Brown Butter Cake, Yogurt Ice Cream

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Salted Caramel

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One of the hottest tickets in town and a reservation for which advanced planning is requisite given the restaurant’s small size it was to Pacific Heights’ Nico that I sat down for my first of two dinners on Saturday and featuring a well-culled menu of seasonal French small plates I was happy to find both service and cuisine befitting the praise. Tucked away on Sacramento Street and seating less than fifty amidst casual décor with a Plexiglas window affording full view of Chef Nicholas Delaroque’s gleaming kitchen it was mere moments after Nico unlocked its doors that I was welcomed to a cozy two-top and quickly perusing the menu of a man who honed his skills with Crenn and Kinch a five-course meal focused on Northern California’s glorious produce took shape. Clearly a kitchen already accustomed to serving at high volume and at times perhaps flowing a bit too fast it was with a slice of warm Manresa-esque bread and a lovely muddled-fruit cocktail that I began and moving next to a duo of appetizers the fried chickpeas with squash puree would prove light and crisp while terrine was coarse, rich, and complimented just enough to tame the expected mineral funk. Moving next to the night’s lone vegetarian entrée, a slightly overpriced $22 plate of creamy egg yolk melding crisp potatoes and tender mushrooms I was soon onward to dessert and with the clock ticking just past 6:30 my smile beamed bright, first at the intense sweetness of golden apricots over a toothsome cake seemingly made of nothing but ground pistachios and a bit of butter and then to a boozy mountain of cherries reined in by tangy ice cream and chunks of spongy cake, a duo from which I’d not be able to determine a favorite when asked by my server who soon delivered the check along with a buttery salted caramel and cheerful thanks for stopping in.

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RECOMMENDED: Desserts were a highlight and a veritable steal at $8 while appetizers also shined at $6-$8 each.

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AVIOID: Main courses, both mine and those at neighboring tables, seem to trend small for the price.

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TIP: Online menus are described as representative of the restaurant’s cuisine and should be taken as such as not a single item from the website on June 14th was offered in house that day.

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http://www.nicosf.com/

Nico on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, California, Dessert, Foie, Food, Ice Cream, Nico, San Francisco, Vacation