Catching up with Bay Area Restaurants

Living in San Francisco has created major problem for Joyce and I. The city simply has too many good and interesting restaurants. And there are more and more of these restaurants all the time. This, combined with our travel schedule, makes it all but impossible for us to try new restaurants, much less return to our favorites.

When we are in town, we try to get to as many new places (and occasionally return to some of our favorites) wherever possible. Our most recent week home was no different.

Recently we got to two new (at least for us) dining experiences, returned to our single most frequently revisited restaurant and even had a chance to experiment with a new dinner menu at home. One evening, when Joyce was out, I also took in a happy hour—with $1 oysters.

Our new restaurant experiences were very different places and very different experiences:

  • Sons and Daughters on Nob Hill has a prix fixe menu with four courses for $58, and another $45 for wine pairings. We visited the restaurant with one other couple and had a very nice meal. The service began with a house-baked brioche an amuse bouche of marinated beets. Joyce and I selected two of the four available options for three of the four courses to maximize our tasting options. She began with a dish of fresh tomatoes, pepper, leek and scallop with opal basil. I with fennel soup with crisp Maitake mushroom. For entrées, Joyce chose Arctic char with sunchoke, turnip, potato and tarragon. I selected grilled loin lamb chops with barley, fiddlehead ferns, artichoke and king trumpet mushrooms. We also selected different desserts (a curl of caramelized Norwegian bronost cheese with peaches, rhubarb, quinoa and chamomile, and a corn cake with bourbon ice cream, chorizo foam, smoked anglaise and lime. Although both couples enjoyed each of these dishes, three of the four of us felt compelled to do the same second course—two abalone medallions with burdock root puree, celery, salsify and olives. (The fourth person had sweetbreads with porcini, faro, scallion and watercress.) The abalone, by popular consensus, was the standout, firm, sweet and buttery with a puree that demanded another brioche. We passed on the wine pairing, and ordered a bottle of Marsannay from the wine list and added a bottle of our own 2007 Testerosa, Gary’s vineyard pinot. Although the restaurant waived the $20 corkage fee for our bottle, the bill, with generous tip for excellent service, was still $200 per couple. While we enjoyed the meal and service, we felt that for the price we could do better.
  • Ippuku, a Japanese Izakaya in downtown Berkeley, was a totally different experience, a very casual Japanese grill with a number of interesting dishes. We had stopped there once before for two small enjoyable plates (a chicken breast skewer and grilled oyster mushroom), but wanted to return to eat a full meal. After sampling and settling on a sake, we began the process of ordering. (Unfortunately, we are trying to recount our order from memory, since I forgot to pick up a menu and one is not posted on the restaurant’s site.) We certainly enjoyed the grilled calamari and the fried crab croquette, but we were less impressed by four additional dishes which included grilled chicken gizzards and the second oyster dish on the menu (which we can’t recall without seeing a menu). For a total of less than $100 for the two of us, the meal was certainly affordable. It was not, however, memorable.

Our return visits were each for light meals—dim sum and a happy hour.

  • City View, on Commercial Street, is our go-to dim sum restaurant. We love Yank Sing, but it is a bit pricy for our monthly dim-sum fix. After trying a number of local dim-sum haunts, City View has become our favorite. During each visit, we typically end up with many of our long-time favorites; shrimp dumpling, pork and shrimp shumai, peking duck and our hands-down, absolute favorite—pan-fried shrimp with candied walnuts in a vanilla sauce. And for typically less than $50 including tip (even on those occasions when I succumb to the lure of a Tsingtao beer) to fill two people, we can continually return with no guilt.
  • McCormick & Kuleto in Ghirardelli Square has a 3:00-6:00 happy hour every weekday. Every other Wednesday, the day on which we tend to find our way there, it ups the ante with $1 oysters. Although we always begin with oysters (Hama Hama’s this week), we also enjoy the $4.95 steamed manila clams and fish taco and the incredibly priced $2.95 half-pound cheeseburger. Although Joyce and I always end up with a bottle of wine, this time, going alone, I “suffered” with a glass of Gloria Ferrar Blanc de Noir with my oysters and clams, and a Mirror Pond IPA with my burger.

Although we still had a time for a few dinners at home, three of these were redos of two of our standard non-fish (after two full weeks of fresh New England lobster, clams, salmon, haddock and halibut) meals:

  • Broiled Cornish hen with wild rice; and
  • Joyce’s world-famous, absolutely unbeatable, homemade pizza, loaded with tomato sauce, fontina cheese, mushrooms and newly ground sweet sausage from our very local, very friendly meat market, Little City (at Stockton and Vallejo).

We did, however, also manage to squeeze in an experiment with a healthy, and delicious three-course menu that Joyce discovered and managed to find time (with my invaluable assistance) to prepare. The meal began with an arugula and watermelon salad with balsamic and ended with a light blueberry tart. The main act consisted of Fuseli pasta with bacon, pine nuts and basil in a cream sauce (for which we substituted evaporated skim milk). Almost healthy enough (even with the crumbled bacon) to assuage our guilt from the pizza.

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