San Francisco Strikes Back – Day Two
March 30, 2011
Ainsley, although usually a very calm and agreeable child, did not approve of her hotel-provided crib. So I was up early and decided to check Dynamo’s Twitter feed to see what they’re making. I had no plans to make the hour-long bus trip there and back since we had a rental car for a day trip up north, and I was going to need all of the stomach room possible for an afternoon of Thomas Keller’s food.
Rats. They were making several flavors that are on my list to try this time around. Chief among those is the cornmeal cherry that eluded me last time. I mentioned my dilemma to Loria and she, ever pragmatic, said that I have four donuts on my list and that if we split them all, that’s really like only eating two donuts apiece. That can’t possibly spoil my appetite, she sagely reasons. I was halfway out the door before she finished the sentence.
Dynamo Donuts – an unwholesome variety and quantity of donuts
As mentioned before, I love donuts more than I can accurately explain. One of the biggest losses in my everyday life over the past year was the closing of the Dick’s Market up the street. Rather than taking that as evidence of my living a particularly charmed life, consider it a statement of how much donuts and I get along. The in-house bakery at Dick’s was amazing, and their apple fritter had become a regular part of my diet. It helped that the store resided in the same strip mall as my gym, so I could get my workout in and easily rationalize the pastry afterward. I’d earned it. Dick’s, you will be missed.
Dynamo, how I missed you. Over the course of this last week-long trip, I made the long trip there three times. If they weren’t closed on the day we left, I suspect there would have been one last trip there as our final stop on the way out of town. I say this despite finding out late last trip that the bus route from our hotel and Dynamo apparently also serves as the most convenient way for the denizens of the Tenderloin to get to the closest methadone clinic. So, needless to say, our merry band of bus riders are a colorful lot. I barely noticed on the way there, anticipation drawing my attention to the countdown to my 24th Street stop; the way back is fraught with terror as I will myself and, more importantly, my box of $3 donuts to be invisible.
Here’s what we ate during the entire trip. I’m sure if you do the math you’ll realize that if only four of these happened on this first day, we had a couple of really piggish days thereafter. Maybe it’s better if you just don’t do the math.
Meyer Lemon Huckleberry – this one is nicely tart due to plenty of lemon zest.
Maple Apple Bacon – same and brilliant as it ever was. I may or may not have eaten one of these myself each time I went.
Lemon Pistachio – beautiful middle Eastern flavors with the lemon glaze being much more acidic than you’d find on a normal lemon donut.
Hot Cross Bun – hint of nutmeg in the pastry cream filling.
Molasses Guinness Pear – dense molasses donut with Guinness-soaked pears, crystallized ginger, and raisins with a molasses glaze. I love pears, crystallized ginger, and desserts, so this donut should be a no-brainer favorite. Instead, I found it rather muddled. I’m not sure if it’s a function of there being too much going on or a function of the donut being particularly dense and smothering the other flavors, but I could taste only a touch of pear, plenty of molasses, and not much else. That being said, the worst Dynamo donut is better than most other donuts I have available, so still a very pleasant experience.
Cornmeal Rosemary Cherry – cornmeal donut with rosemary and dried cherry with a buttermilk glaze. I love the idea of cornmeal in a donut. As a flavor, it doesn’t show up much in this one, being taken over by the glaze.
Monte Cristo – donut with chunks of gruyere and ham in the batter filled with a house made jam. Great jam, though I could have used more of it. And, while we’re at it, more of the ham and cheese would have been good, too. The one bite that I got that contained all three was sublime, though.
Bitter Queen – candied grapefruit donut with an Elderflower glaze and dusted with Campari sugar. Brilliant little pastry, this. First of all, there is much more sourness and bitterness than I anticipated in a donut. The Campari sugar is very flavorful, but the candied grapefruit makes this donut for me. Seeing this on their daily Twitter feed will give me serious hunger pangs from here on out.
Blueberry Cornmeal – cornmeal donut with fresh blueberries and a lavender glaze. I preferred this version of the two cornmeal donuts. Clear, copious amounts of blueberry flavor and a nice compliment from the lavender.
Strawberry Earl Grey – donut with dried strawberries and a double bergamot Earl Grey glaze. Orange from the bergamot oil in the team and strawberries, both very prevalent. I wish I’d gotten a second of these, as the half that I had didn’t have many dried strawberries.
Peanut Butter Banana – banana donut with peanut butter glaze. I’ll admit to not finding much banana flavor here, though the peanut butter glaze was delicious.
Our appetites properly piqued, we picked up the rental car and headed north over the Golden Gate through Napa. It’s a beautiful drive that would, I’m sure, have been greatly augmented by an occasional stop at a winery for a tour and tasting. We don’t drink, though, so we blow right past Napa on up to Yountville to visit
Bouchon Bistro – Rillettes, Lobster Bisque, Poulet Rôti , and Gnocchi à la Parisienne
Our previous visit to Bouchon in Vegas was a memorable meal. We are also avid fans of the bakery, so we figured that it would constitute a nice side trip to visit the mother ship of both. We encountered what was to become a running theme on the trip: the wait staff, as happy as they are to see us, are over the moon about having Ainsley dine with them. Both the our server and the greeter are both lavish in their praise of her beauty and behavior. And, as much as I feel immune to a wait staff who butters me up personally, appreciating my child seems to wonder for my mood and the size of the post-meal tip.
This incarnation of Bouchon is a much smaller, more intimate room. I’m fairly surprised that we are one of maybe five tables occupied. The lobster bisque arrives and I’m surprised to find a deep, rich, and complex flavor more akin to a beef stew than the seafood-enriched soup I’m expecting. In fact, without the benefit of having been the one ordering it, I don’t know that I could have identified it as a seafood dish at all. It’s not bad, but definitely not expected. The rillettes, on the other hand, comes exactly as described: meat cooked into a tender paste, packed into a small crock, then topped with apricot preserves. It’s served with small grilled pieces of toast which I feel duty-bound to pile as high as I can with the tasty mix. The flavor balance is dead on, with the preserves providing just a bit of acid to cut the fat of the meat. I kind of wish we’d ordered two of these and skipped the bisque.
There are no surprises with the mains, however: the roast chicken is juicy, flavorful, and perfectly done. I recall there being vegetation that accompanied the dish, but it hardly mattered. I was too busy denuding the bones of my part of the chicken to pay much attention. The gnocchi is the best I’ve ever had. It is light, airy, and the browned butter sauce around it is beautiful.
We’re offered dessert, but plan on the bakery next door.
Bouchon Bakery – small assortment of desserts
I don’t know whether I was full or simply sated after the Dynamo run, but a trip to Bouchon Bakery, usually an expensive endeavor, turns into a fairly cheap affair. We grabbed a chocolate eclair, which was rich and decadent and that I would gladly enjoy again. I also grab a blackberry pâte de fruit (mispronouncing it as “pa-tay d’froot” only to find it’s actually “paw d’fwee” (die in a fire, French language)) and two macarons. Among them, only the passion fruit macaron stands out as being anything special.
I’m certainly open to admitting that, after a day of food indulgences, my palate was shot. The next time we’re in Vegas, I certainly will be excited to visit the version of the Bakery in the Venetian. This one in Yountville has a larger selection, adding a robust selection of breads to the menu. Since we were there for dessert, I was mostly focused on those and surprised to find that there are very few choices here that can’t be had in Vegas.
The drive home was trying. We managed to nail rush hour between Napa and Oakland, and sit in the car for an extra 45 minutes. Ainsley’s patience finally runs thin, and by the time we’re dropping the car off at the hotel, she’s in real need of feeding and a nap. As such, when dinnertime rolls around an hour or so later, I head out to forage for food to bring back. Since the mall is just next door, I opt for an old friend.
Out the Door – Green Papaya Salad, Steamed Pork Bun, Crispy Jumbo White Shrimps with Garlic Shanghai Noodles, and Lemongrass Pork Noodles
Among my proud accomplishments this trip is that I have both convinced and addicted Loria to the joys of Out the Door. The fast-food incarnation of the famed Vietnamese restaurant The Slanted Door offers impressively seasoned and conceived dishes to go. My experience with them last trip was marred only by the fact that I discovered them the day before we were leaving, so I didn’t get to try everything on the menu.
I’d had the green papaya salad last time and loved it, and grabbed one again this time to make up for the last time I talked Loria into a papaya salad at a local Thai place that was dreadful. She agreed that this version was crisp and delicious and has rhapsodized about its joys since then. The steamed pork bun was the same as last time, with bonus points being awarded for it not being the disturbing color of blood red that most similar buns in San Francisco are on the inside.
Of the two entrees we got, Loria picked better than I: while the shrimp noodles were good, I found somewhere halfway through my dish that I’d had more than enough of them. Instead, I finished up the lemongrass pork noodles and wished that I’d gotten the caramelized chicken that was on the menu.
One note: the online menu appears to be somewhat out of date, as the lemongrass chicken that appears there wasn’t available. I’m not sure if that had something to do with our being there somewhat late in the day, but good to know if you’re headed there that it’s best not to get yourself married to any particular dish until you arrive and see what they are actually offering that day.
Up next: a naked song. Cringe, San Francisco, cringe.