San Francisco Strikes Back – Day Four
April 1, 2011
We woke up late, had Starbucks oatmeal for breakfast, and took off walking for an early lunch.
Wayfare Tavern – Popovers, Poutine, Baked Macaroni and Cheese, Duck Gumbo, and a Triple Order of Surly
It was a quick walk from the hotel to Wayfare Tavern, Tyler Florence’s new restaurant nestled in the middle of the Financial District. We arrived just before 11am but found the door open and ourselves, by design, the first party to arrive.
“Table for three,” I say, smiling and glancing down at my daughter in the stroller.
“Do you have a reservation?” asks the rather dour greeter, glancing down at my daughter in the stroller.
“Welllllllll…I could either seat you at the bar or at these stand ups over here. I guess I could give you a table, but I would absolutely have to have it back by noon.”
“We’ll do the table and have it back by noon.”
She looks like I’ve just taken away her birthday and stomped her left big toe simultaneously.
“Please follow me,” she said on a tone that sounded a lot more like “Please jump off your choice of either of our city’s convenient and picturesque bridges and be sure to take the stroller and its contents with you.”
We get seated and a server literally races over to us. “I understand we’re in a bit of a hurry? I can get your orders into the kitchen immediately.”
Luckily, he’s dealing with people who study menus online before they show up. We know pretty much where we’re heading, so we get them started on the poutine while we figure out an entree to split. We settle on duck gumbo and a side of macaroni and cheese.
While they get to work on the food, we speculated about the source of the attitude. It seems odd to complain about our taking a table that was unoccupied and was unlikely to be so for the hour it’ll take to eat our meal. Our thoughts turned to the location: maybe our decidedly casual attire and the presence of a baby clashes with the Financial District chic they are attempting to affect. However, I did call the night before and ask about whether Ainsley would be welcome, and was assured that she would be…though, come to think of it, the woman on the phone followed that up with the fact that they didn’t have a reservation available until 9:30pm. And it was five on a weeknight when I called.
Popovers arrived. I’d read raves about them. Maybe Sourpuss’ attitude was sufficiently unpleasant that it made me resentful and harsh on them. Hard to say for sure, but I found the popovers to be just ok. They were eggy and the cheese taste is strong, but aside from those two notes, there’s not much going on. I really would have preferred a regular bread, to be honest. I tried them with the butter and didn’t really find them to be anything more special even when doused liberally.
Nothing but a thumb to the eye from St. Peter himself could have ruined the poutine, however. With all of the previous brittleness working against it, our table fell silent as we devoured that plate. Nicely crisped and slightly browned potatoes were already wilting under the weight of mozzarella curd, a rather generous portion of tender-as-my-wounded-father-feelings braised beef short rib, and some deep, complex truffle gravy, topped with several shaves of black truffle for good measure. I am grateful that I very carefully split the order onto our two plates prior to eating as, had we simply eaten off the same plate, I might have forgotten that I am a generous husband and gone feral and greedy. As boring as I found the popovers to be, they do make for a fine sop for truffle gravy.
And it’s downhill from there. The macaroni and cheese arrived and has the texture and flavor of a plate full of glue. I’m usually pretty harsh when it comes to mac and cheese — it’s one of those dishes where chefs tend to cut corners and the final product shows it — but when Loria pipes in saying “that is terrible” before I’ve said anything, I know it’s a pretty poor plate. She usually loves even the most unlovable macaroni and cheese. Limp pasta, barely browned bread crumbs, and an unpleasant cheese sauce binding it together. $8 completely wasted.
The duck gumbo is a better written dish on the menu than actually arrives. There’s nothing overtly wrong about it, but it’s nothing extraordinary beyond being a perfectly nice bowl of gumbo with duck confit. To make things worse, Ainsley apparently sensed that she’s unwelcome and began to fuss, so Loria took her off to a restroom to feed. I shoveled down the rest of the gumbo, asked for Loria’s half of the gumbo to be packaged to go, and beat a hasty retreat through a dining room full to the brim with two whole occupied tables. Whew, sure glad we made it out by noon to avoid what is clearly a lunch crush in the making.
In the only nice moment of service, I was given a coat check ticket at the table and, when we’re ready to go, I hand it to Sourpuss in exchange for our leftovers that have been neatly packed into a bag.
Thanks Wayfare and fare thee well! May we never darken each others paths again (unless I really crave that poutine, in which case I’ll call ahead and take it to go).
It was the first day of the convention, so we decide to help out Loria’s sisters by getting dinner arranged so that it is ready for them when they arrive back at the hotel. Last trip, I’d really hoped to hit Mission Street Food and was bummed when it closed up shop. When I heard that some of the same people were behind Mission Street Chinese and that they delivered for a couple bucks, that became our call.
Lung Shan/Mission Chinese Food – Lung Shan’s Vegan Delight, Hainam Chicken Rice, Slow-Cooked Char Siu Pork Belly, Braised Mongolian Beef Cheek, Broccoli Beef
We’d had an interesting conversation about it on the way back from Napa the day before. When I’d floated the idea of Mission Street for dinner, she went looking online for their menu and via Yelp came across not only a rather ordinary looking Chinese food menu, but some equally bland “what’s the big deal and why do people love this place?” reviews. I was perplexed since I’d been looking at a menu with some rather authentic-sounding and exotic dishes and the reviews to match. We soon puzzled out that they actually have two menus. I assume one is meant for the mouth-breathing Gwailo and the other for the locals. We ordered from the interesting menu and were rewarded. I have to admit that for every dish we got, there were two others that we were closely considering. We’ll have to try an all new assortment next time.
We’re told that the order will take an hour to arrive and are glad that we put the order in early to accommodate the girls when they get off the show floor. Half an hour later we hear a knock at the hotel door. Props and an extra star for sheer speed in San Francisco rush hour.
I tasted only a spoon of the soup, it having been ordered by Katelyn, a semi-lapsed vegan who I figure might be trying to avoid the rest of the meat-heavy order. It’s tasty miso broth, and she assured us all in strident tones that the mushroom dumplings were good as well.
The group agreed that the absolute favorite was the Hainam Chicken Rice. Something about the combination of bits of chicken meat, peanut, and heavy application of chicken fat made it irresistible. Even after I was full, I found myself going back for another fork of that rice.
My only disappointment was the pork belly. In general when I think of pork belly and slow cooking, I figure that the result will be a great deal of the fat rendered out over time and tender, succulent meat left behind. The cubes of pork belly in our order are 90% fat. I excised the meat from between the fat layers and there is a nice-sized snack. I will admit, however, that this is likely the result of my own expectations and that this presentation may well have been perfectly pleasing to the intended native palate. Both the soy-cured egg and the ginger scallion noodles that came with it were delicious, though.
We went beef heavy on the other two dishes. Had I realized that Janelle’s Broccoli Beef contained the same beef cheeks that the other Mongolian dish did, I might have opted for one of the other dozen or so dishes that were in the running, just for the sake of variety. The meat was delicious and tender in both preparations. I loved the fresh horseradish flavor in the Mongolian version, and the inclusion of actual poached oysters in addition to a smoked oyster sauce and Chinese broccoli signaled that this was not the beef broccoli that I’m likely to get from my strip mall sweet and sour joint at home.
I really enjoyed this food. Add in the possibility of delivery and I’m pretty sure that Mission Chinese will become a staple of our future visits.
Next up: why I’ll never watch Top Chef the same way ever again.