San Francisco Strikes Back – Day Five
April 2, 2011
I did not sleep well in San Francisco. We had a very kind woman at the front desk who, on seeing that we had a baby with us, placed us in a room with some extra space in it. Unfortunately, the room in question also had a bed that did my back no favors. Ainsley was similarly unhappy with her bed, so there was a lot of interrupted sleep during the trip.
I woke up with my back in knots. After trying for an hour, I finally gave up at six and go grab a shower. My back would not let go, so around seven I finally decided that it’s time to try some walking. It occurs to me that an old friend wakes up at 7:30, so I head off to the Tenderloin.
Dottie’s True Blue Cafe – Lamb Merguez Sausage, Roasted Garlic, Tomato, Spinach, Goat Cheese Omelet with Toast and Potatoes
The trip from the Marriott to Dottie’s is a bit like the opening scenes of Little Shop of Horrors. It’s far too late to be heading to Dottie’s and expecting to be successful. Past experience tells me that the line already had several people in it and that by the time I made the 10-minute walk there, there would be enough people in line that all of the ten tables and five seats at the bar will be claimed, and maybe even the second seating as well. I make the turn onto Jones street and am shocked to see exactly zero people in line.
For a moment, I feared the worst and began to prepare myself for living life in a post-Dottie’s world, but I rolled up to the door and saw the usual flurry of pre-opening activity. When I started my walk over, I’d figured that I would take a look and maybe try to talk my way in to grab some pastry to go. With no line and 20 minutes to opening, though, I adjusted my plan and decide to eat. It turned out to be a solid plan as my concern that I’d left Loria high and dry is needless; when I finally go back to the room, the lights are still off and both ladies are sound asleep.
The doors opened and I claimed a table. By 7:30, the usual gaggle of diners are in line. I don’t know how I lucked out, but I decided to pay it forward by eating my meal as efficiently as possible so as to surrender the table to the next hungry person with their face pressed against the glass. I’m the first order in.
It’s the small things about Dottie’s that I love. The omelet is beautifully cooked with perfectly spiced meat and a great balance between the creamy goat cheese, the egg, and everything else. Those things are a given. It is the parts of the meal that would be a throwaway in most diners that really impresses me. On the marker board, my dish had “toast” as the final word. What arrived are two irregularly sliced pieces of lightly toasted, scratch-made bread that, on first bite, clearly have something else going on. I asked my server and he reports that it is buttermilk rosemary bread. I have a new standard for the phrase “under promise and over deliver.” “Toast” indeed.
They did not have, alas and alack, the whiskey berry crumb cake. I grabbed a scone for Loria and a chocolate chip coconut muffin for later. It turns out to be dense with chocolate and predictably delicious.
Loria forgave me for going to Dottie’s without her as soon as I describe the gauntlet of less-than-completely-housed people as being worse than last year. Stupid economy.
There was one WonderCon panel that I felt compelled to line up early for that doesn’t even start until 1pm. We decided to the night before that I will go do my time in line while Loria and Ainsley grab food from a new place at the mall.
‘Wichcraft – Slow-roasted Berkshire Pork, Red Cabbage, Jalapeno, and Mustard Sandwich and Mozzarella, Roasted Butternut Squash, and Hazelnut Browned Butter Sandwich
Mere days before the start of our trip, I discovered that Tom Colicchio’s ‘Wichcraft brand had opened its first location outside of his two home bases of New York and Las Vegas. Having never had a chance to sample his food, I was excited to sample the fare originated by the mind that I’d heard tear so many dishes apart on Top Chef. I needn’t have been.
I got seated in the panel near the front and Loria came rolling up with the stroller and lunch. We got her seated, I played with the baby for a bit, and we swapped halves of the sandwiches and dig in. The pork is dry. And bland. I took a quick glance at Loria to see if I can read her, hoping that maybe I blew out my palate at Dottie’s or something. She’s as disappointed as I am.
In fact, this might be one of the most boring sandwiches I’ve ever had and I’ve paid over $8 for it. Hoping that it’s a fluke, I finished up my half of the pork and move onto the mozzarella. The cheese is fine. The butternut squash is waterlogged. I cannot get even a hint of the hazelnut or browned butter. I flashed back to a couple of days prior when I stuck my head into the shop just after lunch time and found it nearly empty. It’s very clear that word has spread and done its damage. This ended up being the biggest food disappointment of the trip.
After the panel, we strolled up to the Ferry Building hoping to catch the tail end of the Farmer’s Market. We wandered around the closing booths, grabbed a couple bags of those 4505 Chicharrones, and headed inside.
El Porteno Argentinian Empanadas – Champioñes Empanada and Alfajores de Limon
Just inside the door there were fresh empanadas. Judging from the line and empty pans, they were popular. We tried the mushroom one and a small cookie filled with lemon curd. The empanada was heavenly. I’m a sucker for good mushrooms, and these are very well prepared with just a touch of shallot and some parmesan cheese. I very nearly got back into line to get a second one, but we had a lot of building cover and only so much stomach space. The cookie was tasty as well: soft cookies with velvety lemon curd nestled between them. What a great way to start our visit and wake up our palates!
Miette Cakes – Gingerbread Cupcake and Grapefruit Macaron
We’d window shopped Miette during our last trip to the Terminal. Having read a few reviews, including a report that their gingerbread cupcake had been named Best Beer-spiked Cupcake by none other than Alton Brown, I figured we’d best make a stop. We ordered the cupcake and a grapefruit macaron.
The cupcake we received was dense but surprisingly dry. Although it contains all of the usual gingerbread spices, the overwhelming flavor for me is that of savory bread, which I’m sure is a result of the beer, and of molasses. The cream cheese frosting is fine, but nothing special. All in all, it’s a fine cupcake but I’m not entirely sure what the fuss is about.
The macaron has a touch of grapefruit flavor. Honestly, it could have used much more. There is also a very grainy texture to the meringue portion of the macaron that is not pleasing. Since their own menu describes them as containing coarsely ground almonds, it seems reasonable to think the texture is intended, but it comes off feeling somewhat unfinished or poorly mixed.
What Miette lacked in the goods, it certainly makes up for in style. The shop looks like My Little Pony wooed an Easy Bake Oven, and each item is impeccably designed and beautiful.
Ciao Bella – Valrhona Chocolate and Honey Toasted Pecan Gelato
Approaching full but not quite there, I needed gelato. A single scoop of each flavor should do the trick.
The Valrhona Chocolate, in a word, outstanding. I was skeptical that the nuances of this very high-end chocolate would make it into a dairy-based product intact, but I was wrong. The full spectrum of the source cacao was here. I might be missing my guess, but it tasted like their Guanaja variety. If so, it’s a good choice that I’ve made before when cooking with the expensive stuff. It has some bold floral notes which tend to make it through all of the preparation. Regardless of the Valrhona variety used, this is a chocolate gelato that should not be missed.
The Honey Toasted Pecan was tasty as well. I tasted warm honey notes, though the pecan was mostly absent from my serving. Still, a nice gelato flavor.
Boccalone – Salumi Cone
We stopped by Boccalone and saw the business was hopping. I jumped in the express line and grabbed two salumi cones. I didn’t get a description of what was in there, but it was all just as delicious as last year. If the salumi cone isn’t the best bang for the buck when it comes to a quick, flavor-packed, meaty snack in San Francisco, I can’t imagine what beats it.
Out the Door – Green Papaya Salad and Spring Rolls
Our final stop of the afternoon was at the Ferry Terminal’s incarnation of Out the Door. On walking up, I realized that we’d made a critical error not visiting before: the menu at this location is roughly twice the size of the one at Westfield Centre. And, unfortunately, we’re mostly full so we’re not exactly going to be able to exploit the larger menu, but Loria wanted to grab another green papaya salad for dinner later. Our coaster buzzed, indicating that our order is ready to go, and I go up to pay and decide to be that obnoxious guy who tacks something on. Fortunately, I was just after some spring rolls, several orders of which were stacked next to the register ready to go.
Back at the room later, we tuck into the crisp, tasty salad. I’m almost glad Out the Door doesn’t exist at home because it isn’t cheap and I don’t possess the self-control necessary to stay away. So I would be destitute. So, lucky for me, right?
The spring rolls were beautiful: a great balance of rice noodles, vegetables, and shrimp with that beautiful mint leaf providing a nice, refreshing lift at the end. Buried in peanut sauce they’re even better.
I started to wonder about whether it would be feasible to live off Dottie’s, Dynamo, and Out the Door in perpetuity.
Next up: the trip winds down and we hit a few favorites and odds and ends.