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What I Ate in San Francisco – A Confession

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March 30 – Day One
We started our SF visit – nominally motivated by Wondercon, which Loria was working and I was attending – at the Ferry Building. And we chose well. And then, shortly thereafter, not so well.

Boccalone – Meat Cone

Chris Cosentino’s salumeria, the offspring of his local Incanto restaurant, is filled to the brim with preserved pork. A smaller shop than I’d envisioned, it didn’t disappoint with the meat cone, a selection of the shop’s delectable pork treats served in a small paper cone of the type you’ve probably had a shaved ice in. Ours had capocollo, prosciutto, and soppressata in it. At $3.50, it’s a tasty, tasty bargain that reminded me just how magical an animal the pig is.

Boccalone on Urbanspoon

Not surprisingly, we weren’t full, having not eaten since a hurried breakfast at 5am. I do truly hate early morning flights. So, we walked around, looking at other options in the Ferry Building, which has a wide variety of small food stands. Several of them, like Slanted Door and Hog Island Oyster Company, I’d heard of and was interested in trying. We had many miles of trudging to do in search of good food, though, so we opted for

San Francisco Fish Company – Crab Cake Sandwich and Clam Chowder

You’d think that combining “San Francisco” and “Fish,” this place would be a no-brainer for good food, right? Instead, we ate a mushy crab cake so overpowered with parsley that I couldn’t even begin to taste the crab, and a cup of the thickest, blandest clam chowder I’ve ever had. It was enough to stave off the hunger pangs long enough to arrive at our next feeding trough, but wasted money, calories, as well as the commodity that proved to be the most valuable on our trip: stomach capacity.

To get to that trough, we took the BART from Embarcadero to the 24th Street station and started walking to

Humphry Slocombe – Boccalone Prosciutto, Toasted Coconut Caramel Candy Cap, and Secret Breakfast

This ice cream shop specializes in wild, out there flavors. As far as flavor went, I couldn’t taste much of a piggy note at all in the prosciutto ice cream, which I’m sure some would argue is a good thing. However, if I’m brave enough to order such a thing, I would at least like some hint of meat in my treat. Instead, it tasted a lot like bland ice cream base.

The Candy Cap in question is a mushroom. It adds a nutty quality to the dessert, and this was by far the best flavor of the three. Secret Breakfast, which I tried just a sample spoon of, is intended to be Irish Whiskey and corn flakes. I couldn’t really taste any of the cereal, so basically it was a half-teaspoon of whiskey ice cream. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but isn’t exactly revolutionary.

My biggest problem with all three ice creams was the texture. Try this experiment: go buy yourself a good premium pint of B&J and leave it on your counter for an hour. Refreeze it, then taste the outer surface. Every one of the Humphry Slocombe ice creams that we ate had this same kind of grainy consistency. It’s likely that the flavors that I wasn’t getting were being washed away by the huge ice crystals ensconced in the ice cream. At any rate, it’s not a pleasant texture for ice cream, and seems like the sort of thing that a pro can easily avoid. Looking at their flavor list, I think we kind of lost out on some of the potentially exciting ones. Unless of course, all those flavors end up just as bland as those we tried. Color me disappointed, overall.

Humphry Slocombe on Urbanspoon

Out the door and a few blocks up the street

Dynamo Donut and Coffee – Ostensibly the Maple Glazed Bacon Apple, but so…very…many

A small, easily missed shop unless you are looking for it specifically. Which, fortunately, we were. I love donuts to a nearly unnatural degree. Put a high-quality, crunchy and sweet apple fritter in my hands and all is right with my world. Ditto a good, dense buttermilk bar or old fashioned. I can tell a good donut shop from a bad one easily by the look of the pastries, and sometimes just from smell.

Dynamo is the real deal.

In total, we visited Dynamo three times in a week, each trip requiring a half hour on public transit each way. We dropped an obscene amount of money on what would would consider to be mere snacks. I would have considered it a happy, happy trip had we subsisted entirely on them. The majority of my weight gain over the course of the trip was due to them, I’m sure. Even the weaker entries were better than the majority of donuts I have readily available to me locally. I gave serious thought to asking about franchising opportunities.

Here is the butcher’s bill for the entire trip. Stop judging me, please.

Chocolate Rose – dense chocolate cake donut with a rose-infused sugar glaze. Just enough of the rose to detect and enjoy, and that chocolate cake is the best I’ve ever had. I wasn’t surprised, on the last of the three visits, to see the baker pull out a large bag of Valrhona chocolate powder. Use the best ingredients when cooking and you’re halfway there.

Spice Chocolate – same dense chocolate cake but dredged in cinnamon, sugar, and chipotle powder. I’ll admit openly that I tasted no heat at all here. I would like to have done so – the combination of chocolate and spicy ingredients really do please my palate. Maybe I hit them on a weak day.

Saffron Chocolate – alleged to be a raised donut with saffron and orange zest in the pasty and glazed with a chocolate saffron glaze, I really only tasted the orange in the pastry and chocolate in the glaze. I would be willing to sit down with a large cup of the regular chocolate glaze and the saffron version to do an in-depth taste test, though.

Vanilla Bean – clean vanilla taste in the glaze

Maple Glazed Bacon Apple – this is, I’m pretty convinced, the perfect raised donut. The apple in the pastry part is crisp and tart. The maple glaze has the sweet, earthy flavor that only comes from the real stuff. The crisp little bacon bits on the top push it over the top. It’s a perfect balance of salty and sweet. I will cop to the flavors of donuts I had during our trip, but refuse to disclose the numbers of each that I consumed. If I did so, a shameful number would be these bad boys.

Caramel de Sel – a nutmeg donut with a layer of fleur de sel caramel. I suspect these are much better eaten when warm. Mine was cold and the hardened, sticky caramel coated the inside of my mouth and made tasting any of the pastry impossible.

Lemon Pistachio – if you’ve had much middle eastern cuisine, you’ll be familiar with the combination of pistachios and lemons. This is a great interpretation, though I admit that I could have used more nuts on the outside.

Lemon Sichuan – vanilla donut filled with honest-to-goodness fresh lemon curd rather than that nasty, dayglo stuff you find in most donuts, then dredged in sugar and sichuan peppercorns. I was hoping for more pepper, as I didn’t really taste any, but I still love this donut a lot.

Lemon Thyme – lemon zest and thyme in the pastry and a honey lemon glaze. Of the more exotic herb-and-spice flavored donuts, this one had the most herbaceous taste. It’s a really inventive combination that works really well.

Candied Orange Blossom – candied orange blossom in the pastry and glaze, and a drizzle of bittersweet chocolate. I think I tried this last on the most donut-heavy day, and my ability to enjoy was getting muted. It was fine, if not entirely memorable.

Apricot Cardamom – cardamom, dried apricot and current pastry with a cardamom glaze.

Chocolate Star Anise – chocolate cake donut with chocolate and star anise glaze. I didn’t really taste much anise, which is fine with me as I’m having a hard time imagining it pairing well with chocolate.

Chocolate Rosemary Almond – chocolate cake donut with rosemary chocolate glaze covered in rosemary-fried almonds. The rosemary is pronounced enough to detect and doesn’t match particularly well with either almonds or chocolate. Or maybe it’s the entire package that I objected to…at any rate, not my favorite.

Meyer Lemon Huckleberry – raised lemon zest donut with lemon glaze, then covered in huckleberry glaze. Tart and sweet, I really enjoyed this one.

Sticky Bun – basically scraps of all the other donuts drenched in a caramel glaze. Better sounding than tasting, in my humble opinion.

Milk Chocolate Passionfruit – raised donut with a passionfruit glaze covered in milk chocolate crumbs. Despite not being a huge milk chocolate fan, the big huge passionfruit flavor won me over on this one.

Hot Cross Donut – a special for Easter, I gathered, this was a filled pastry cream donut that I recall loving and cannot, for the life of me, remember a single flavor involved. I would buy and consume one right now if asked, though, if that gives you any indication how I felt about it.

I got skunked trying to get a Cornmeal Cherry on two separate occasions, so it along with Pumpkin Spice and Guinness Chocolate will need to wait for another day.

Oh, Dynamo. I miss you already.

Dynamo Donuts & Coffee on Urbanspoon

We needed a nap after this. I woke up hungry, against all odds, and searched online for options and found

Sotto Mare – Clam Chowder, Shrimp Cocktail, and Sand Dabs

Neither of us were ravenous, so we decided to walk from our hotel on Market and Fourth to this little gem in Little Italy. The reviews were raves when it came to the seafood. It was a much longer walk than we’d anticipated, so by the time we arrived we were ready for food. We split soup, appetizer and entree. It was uniformly amazing. I thought I’d pretty much seen all that clam chowder had to offer, but this bowl was revelatory: very little cream, all clam flavor. The reviews all mentioned sand dabs as a standout favorite. I love seafood, but hadn’t ever had them. We got a plate with some vegetation and 8 small, pan-fried fish that were rich and satisfying.

I’d go back here in a heartbeat.

Sotto Mare on Urbanspoon

Next time: day two, where we learn that getting into prison is harder than one might imagine, and that I really ought to think more literally when trying to decipher a menu.

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