after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Revisiting with Family

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t says:  g’s mom visited in January, which was a ton of fun.  In between all of the cooking we made her do (that’s right: meatballs, lasagna, chicken parm – all the classics) so she could stock our freezer, we also went out a few times.  And when we have family in town, we like to deal with “known quantities” – no crazy-new adventures – just the greatest hits!

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One of the first places we dragged g’s mom to was Nopalito.  Oh. Em. Gee.  It’s still just as good as it was years ago.  Because I have such terrible grasp of Spanish, I cannot recall the names of any of the dishes – but I think that’s the point – you can do no wrong at Nopalito.  Pork, veggies, beef, whatever – the only “loser” is the person who dares to try and be bashful while sharing plates family-style …   I know the above pictures is under-whelming – I know that a and v back in Philly are probably thinking: “that doesn’t look that good” – but it is – we promise.

 

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What is the only thing better than Bi-Rite’s creme brulee ice cream?  Bi-Rite’s creme brulee ice cream with hot fudge. Once again: the picture sucks, but the food is insane.  g’s mom fell for the salted caramel.  I think g went for the roasted banana.  Damn – I have to work out more if I’m going to eat like this …

 

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One delightful morning, we took g’s mom to Plow in Potrero Hill.  We knew we liked it once before, so why not try it again?  So yea: the Plow potatoes and pancakes are still crazy-good, as was everything else.  So why take a picture?  To remind myself that they make their own sausage, and it, like the rest of the breakfast was precisely perfect.  The more I think of it, the more I appreciate Plow’s reliability, even if they’re not redefining brunch as we know it.

 

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We did venture out to one new eatery with g’s mom and that was a pizza spot in Sausalito.  And while the town wasn’t exactly as she had remembered it, g’s mom was still happy to enjoy the clear skies, the small shops, the thin crust pizza at Sandrino.  I felt that the crust was a little too thin to support the weight of the cheese/sauce, but I was happy with the additional shaved parmagiano reggiano they used.  All in all, it was “pretty good”, but not as good as what we had but a few days later …

 

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… when we hit up Piccino.  After our pretty-darn-good previous meal there, we knew the key was to just order a bunch of courses and share.  We started the meal off with some respectable spinach Arancini.  It’s hard to go wrong with fried rice balls, though.

 

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This was the star of the show.  It was a sausage and red onion pizza.  Sounds pretty easy, right?  I was actually a little disinterested when g suggested it, but because I got to choose another one of the dishes for the table, I acquiesced to her choice of pizza.  Boy am I glad I did!!  It had just the right amount of onion-y punch and flavorful ?fennel?-piggy sausage, with a perfect crust.  It totally killed the pizza we had in Sausalito.

 

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So what was this black blob?  It was perhaps the most unctuous piece of short rib I’ve ever had.  I’m so glad we split it three ways because this beautifully braised, well-glazed piece of meat was super-rich.  Served with a wine reduction, carrots, and celery root puree, it was the perfect way to crescendo towards the end of a meal (salad, pizza, meat).  Wonderful.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

5 February 2016 at 12:38am

Nearby Eats

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t says:  Mission Bay, where we live, isn’t exactly a hotbed of restaurants.  As a result, we were super-excited to find that on Wednesdays, there’s a farmer’s market that pops up right outside our apartment!  Sure, there are fruits and vegetables, but there are also things like nuts, fresh pressed juices, a Lebanese food stand, a fresh bread stand and then the requisite vegan stand, gluten-free stand, etc …  As we visit more of the stands, we’ll report back.  For now, the one stand I bought prepared food from was this one:

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Sure, the menu was a little bit more “fusion” than I was hoping (the Lebanese stand looked more authentic, and I would have gone there, but there was a huge line for this one, so I figured I wanted to see what all the rage was about …) 

 

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I got a banh mi with lettuce instead of cucumber (they ran out of cucumber – insert sadface here) – and I have to say that it was a disappointing.  And it’s not just “disappointing”, rather “disappointing” in the same tone that you would use to try and guilt-trip a child into realizing that his/her behavior was unacceptable (i.e. new age parenting).  The bread wasn’t crusty.  The meat didn’t have enough caramelization.  The cilantro was too subtle.  For the full experience, imagine a “bad” cheesesteak (like if you were visiting Bismarck and ordered a “Philly Cheesesteak”) … and now make it worse by swapping the onions for weakly pickled carrots, the cheese for lettuce, and the beef for bland pork.  Ok – so I guess there really wasn’t much use in starting off with a “bad cheesesteak” at all because I just changed every component, but I at least think that this adequately captures my disappointment. I’m not sure why everyone was lining up waiting for like 15 minutes for these sandwiches!  They weren’t particularly cheap, they weren’t particularly unique.     *sighs* I really miss the chicken banh mi from Rotisseur …  Strike 1 for the Mission Bay Farmer’s Market!!

 

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g and I did venture into Dogpatch for a restaurant called Piccino.  Now this place was pretty cool.  Upon reading the menu, we were expecting something like Barbuzzo – they had a tasty-sounding burrata on the menu, a few pastas, a few pizzas, a few secondi; the prices were reasonable.  But we found that they were a step less casual than Barbuzzo.  The space was open and free, with nicely manicured wooden tables and modern-looking black chairs, with shiny silverware and good-sized wine glasses.  The food was similarly grown-up,  For instance, the burrata wasn’t a decadent cheese-and-bread course, rather, a very nicely composed salad as you see above.  At first, I was a little disappointed (salad?  who the hell wants salad?), but at first bite, I turned that frown upside down.  The California-fresh greens were dressed lightly, but with quite a zippy, mouth puckering dressing.  And the cheese was gooey and rich – almost like butter.  Did I still wish for grilled bread?  A little … but it wasn’t a deal-breaker.  I do think, however, that it was a smidge over-priced.  g and I did share it, but it could have been an app for one if opposite a hungry enough stomach.  

 

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We went for the plain white pizza, which was done up with a thin crust and lots of sliced garlic – it was simple but oh-so-right.  Sure, there were fancier toppings on the menu, but we opted to keep the pizza simple and have it accompanied by a few sides, like …

 

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… meatballs!  If you’re going to call yourself Italian, you better bring it with the meatballs.  Now keep in mind that we are tough critics here, having grown accustomed to NJ-Italian-mom meatballs-and-sauce.  Barbuzzo’s meatballs probably hold the title for best restaurant meatball we’ve encountered thus far, but I’d still only venture a “very good” rating for them because of sauce dissatisfaction.  These meatballs are just a hair underneath those.  Not being stuffed with cheese, these rely on the meat itself, which had a very nice flavor (beef and pork) but could have benefitted from better caramelization on the outside; the sauce was just still a little off for my taste – a bit thin and separating on the plate to reveal an oil phase.  Don’t get me wrong – I took the last remaining meatball home and pwned in the following day – still delicious!

 

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But man those Brussels sprouts never stood a chance at making it to our home fridge.  Not relying on a pork crutch (no ham, no bacon, no sausage, no pancetta),  I’m not sure what the extra flavor was (g was guessing it was some kind of fish sauce), but they were spectacular.  Totally worth ordering.

Piccino gets an A- from the sneeze, but with potential for the full A for sure – we need to do some more “testing”.  And the cafe next door as well as the wine store two doors down (Dig), which we think are associated with Piccino (we can’t tell if they’re associated, or if they just share the same building) show a lot of promise as well.  Rest assured that we will be back!  And when we have visitors, I’m sure we’ll bring them with us – we just have to prep them ahead of time: this isn’t Barbuzzo … but it’s still really good!

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And here’s a bonus pic!  I didn’t order wine at Piccino (trying to keep living costs down), but we did pre-game and ?post-game? with this guy, my latest find from K&L.  Having first had Picpoul de Pinet in London, when I found a few bottlings at K&L, I knew it would hit just the right spot for weekday drinking (i.e. cheap, quaffable).  And just like my London experience, this delivered that palate-cleansing, mouth-watering, petrol-peach smack to the face that I love.  If you want a short-and-snappy, seafood-pairing (or summer-drinking) white without breaking the bank, Picpoul should be the way to go.  Even the PLCB has one online!.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

29 January 2016 at 1:30am

An Oakland Interlude

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t says:  The $1.5 billion powerball was coming a week or so ago (spoiler alert: we did not win) so I had to find a place to buy a ticket.  Being that I have been spending a large amount of time working in Oakland, I searched: “where to buy lottery tickets in Oakland” and one place in particular jumped out at me …  Golden Gate Donuts.  Yea man!  I knew I had no chance of winning anything, so I might as well get some donuts out of it!

 

 

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This was not one of those hipstery, artisanal donut shops.  No “crazy” flavors, no cutesy decor, no ironically tatooed  beards behind the register.  Just donuts [and lotto tickets].  I ventured the chocolate covered buttermilk donut  which was absolutely amaze-balls (it tasted more like a classic sour cream donut with a dark chocolate glaze).  I got a raspberry jelly-filled glazed for g, who liked the texture of the donut, but found the jelly to be a little “meh” – so that one might have been less successful of a donut.  Next up for me: Kruller and Apple Fritter – I’ll have to pace myself to avoid coronary atherosclerosis … I’ll let you know how they go.

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On a separate occasion, we met up with a friend of one of g’s cousins who lives/works in Oakland.  He’s kind-of-a-big-deal, but we don’t want to divulge his true identity so we can protect his big-deal-ness – maybe sometime in the future, we’ll introduce you!  In any case, he suggested we try out Portal in Oakland, for which we were more than happy to trek across the bridge!  The above is a ricotta-caamelized-banana-and-pear French Toast.  It was absolutely crazy.  I ate it all.  Seriously.  I haven’t demolished an entire stuffed French Toast dish in ages (e.g. not even Sabrina’s).  The outside had a crisp sugary-cinnamon coating, while the inside was as light as a cloud, with chunks of the aforementioned cooked fruit.  The blackberries were a bit of an afterthought, but the pomegranate was a nice punch to keep things lively.

 

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The chilaquiles were a bit different than we had ad in he past – it was more like “breakfast nachos” than the egg-dominated chilaquiles with which we were familiar.  g still showed it a thing or two, but maybe it could have used a bit more egg …

In all, we liked Portal and would totally go back, as they had a few other items on their menu worth trying.  We’ll have to remember to show up a few minutes before 11, though because the place fills up fast (with a small line outside), and before you know it, it feels like Friday night at a bar, with people loudly talking but downing bottomless mimosas rather than beers.

My most recent foray into Oakland’s dining scene allowed me to stumble across this nondescript space:

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The place was SO nondescript that I actually had difficulty finding the sign to take a picture of it.  This is Bakesale Betty.  It has apparently been there for years, but being that we’re new here, it was my first time.  They sell some baked goods (scones and cookies), as well as friend chicken sandwiches with coleslaw …

 

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… that look like this!  The shells was super-crispy, and the chicken was nice and tender.  Actually – the above picutre is a sham – it’s the buttermilk fried tofu sandwich!  Somehow they got the perfect fried chicken exterior on the outside of the tofu – beautiful texture with a slightest spicy kick in there.  The cole slaw was fresh and zippy.  And the bread was spot-on (I actually think g loved the bread most!).  Sure the scone and cookie were fine (it ain’t no Talula’s Table/Daily scone), but the chicken sandwich was the real winner.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

23 January 2016 at 1:06am

Storming Bernal Heights Hill

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t says:  What do San Franciscans do on the weekend?  It seems that they like to go “hiking”.  Now, because g and I are new to the area, we needed a “warm-up” hike – you know, something in the city, something easy to climb, something easy to get an Uber from should we fail … Fortunately, we had experienced hikers k and cm show us how it’s done …

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Step 1 is to have a hearty breakfast.  While maybe not as unctuous as a patented a-breakfast-sandwich (bagel, pork x2, runny egg, blue cheese), this one, crafted by cm embodies the one undeniable fact: we’re in California now!  That means a thin cream cheese layer, pickled red onions, cut tomatoes, and some smoked fish with a side of an egg scramble.  With our bellies pleasantly full, we were ready to conquer Bernal Heights Hill …

 

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On the way to the hill (or maybe it was on the way down from the hill) we stopped by some cute stores, which in typical cute-store fashion, were selling over-priced Korean crap.  We’ll wait until we hit a real Korean grocery for our gochujang, thank you very much.

 

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We did see a sign outside one deli advertising something to the extent of “PB&J made by a robot!”.  We went inside to check it out and we found that this contraption, for $2, would assemble a PB&J sandwich, right before your very eyes!  It reminded me of something we might see in Japan or something (not that I have ever been to Japan).  We did like how there was a nutella option, as well as four different kinds of jam.  I can’t imagine the sandwich was THAT delicious, but it was pretty fun to watch!

 

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We did it!  Bernal Heights Hill!  It was actually pretty hard to capture just how impressive of a hill it was, so we apologize to the Hill that this doesn’t look like much. 

Now that our first hill has been conquered we’re looking forward to developing our hill-climbing muscles so we can take on the bigger, badder sites throughout Cali.  Who knows where we’ll wind up next?

Written by afterdinnersneeze

18 January 2016 at 12:38am

Posted in Happenings

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A productive week in SF!

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t says:  Since moving here, g and I needed to re-visit a few places we’ve eaten – you know – just to make sure they were still good.  It’s not that we’re afraid of trying some place new, but we needed to start off with the familiar before venturing out to the boundaries of the SF dining scene!

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For a “chill” last meal in SF with my folks we did some pizza.  They had just returned from a trip to Monterey/Carmel-by-the-Sea/Big Sur and we wanted to get some comforting take-out.  Having been introduced to Little Star by kp, we ordered it up and had it delivered.  My parents loved the deep dish (in the background), while I preferred this white pesto pizza with all kinds of other toppings.  We got the chicken wings as kind-of-a-joke, but they were actually quite tasty!  (Their size was just microscopic – I guess those chickens weren’t given the normal growth hormones that we’re used to – I’m sure they were free range and lived happy lives …)

 

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We broke fast one morning at Plow in Potrero Hill.  An interesting place, Plow, as reviews suggest that this place warrants huge-ass lines on the weekends in excess of 2 hours!!  While it is a cute place, and while the pancakes ate exactly as a perfected buttermilk pancake, I’m not sure they’re worth obsessing over …

 

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… g did however love the “Plow potatoes” and the “perfectly” poached eggs.  Our decision: Plow is delicious, and we had no faults with a single thing we ate.  They weren’t redefining brunch as we know it, but they were merely doing no wrong in the delivery of any of their dishes.  So they get a bravo … but maybe just a bravo we’d rather visit during the week when there are no lines …

 

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Enter Sightglass roasters.  They have some tasty coffees, and even tastier pastries from a smattering of bakeries across the city.  The spacious seating area is nice, but I have to say that the folks are being too nonchalantly cool for my taste –  either that or I am neither nonchalant nor cool enough to hang with them … g did mention some insane-sounding scone that included cherry and chocolate that was SO good that she didn’t save me any :’-(

 

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So g and I wanted to hit up “DogPatch” the “up-and-coming” area just to the south of us on New Year’s Eve.  It’s a peculiar neighborhood, not so much “seedy” as it is “unpopulated”.  That said, there are a few cool places to visit including a cheese shop (Fromagerie) and this place: Smokestack.  One part bar, one part bbq cafeteria, the food was super-tasty.  They do ribs and brisket and sausage and duck by the half-pound, with an assortment of sauces.  While the ribs ar ethe most eye-catching (they’re huge and wagyu), go for the brisket, which was absolutely, positively insane (and that’s not just the kimchi bbq sauce, talkin’).  I also did notice their brewery onsite (it’s Magnolia Brewing) which most people would love (we don’t do beer), and an adventurous whisky list (at usual SF-inflated prices).  Their cocktails were reasonably priced (surprise!), including one I got call Dutchman’s Flat, that included rye with ginger and lemon as well as savory hits of nori and beef bouillon.  In the end the latter were very subtle (so it was more rye + ginger + lemon), but I appreciate the thought!  We texted kp while we were there to tell him we “found” a place to take him when he visits … yea … he already knew about it and was here – you can’t pull one over on kp!  We were surprised, however, to find out that the place is in some financial troubles, according to a recent Eater article; whatever is going on, we had a delicious meal and want to bring my sis and her new fiance here pronto! (I hope they’re still open!)  We did also go to The Third Rail (no pictures) – also some reasonably priced cocktails!  And Whisky-Jerky pairings!  We’ll have to come back to do an official review sooner or later.

 

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On a return to Absinthe on a rainy afternoon of window-shopping, g and I were allured by their burger and portobello-grilled-cheese sandwiches (guess who got which).  And while both were solid, I have to say that the star was the carrot cake dessert.  I don’t know what was in that white-looking shmear ont he plate, but it had a sour kick to it that was amazing with the sweet carrot cake.  The lavender ice cream was useless, however.  It was a dessert that flirted with perfection – next time, Absinthe!

 

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g and I have also been searching for “our new Gusto”.  When we lived in Philly, we were right around the corner from Gusto’s Pizza, which was our go-to every two weeks for a quick take-out pie, at a reasonable price.  Unfortunately, around us, in Mission Bay, there ain’t much in the way of pizza.  I mean, yea, Domino’s and Papa Johns would probably deliver, but we want something with a better neighborhood connection.  We went with Goat Hill Pizza, which I have to say was quite good!  Their sourdough crust’s flavor was subtly (i.e. I didn’t object, which normally I hate sourdough) and there was something especially “creamy” with the cheese which was a nice touch; and the sauce wasn’t sweet!  Yay!  It’s no Zavino’s “Stache” pizza, but it was solid!  We’d definitely try it again.

 

Written by afterdinnersneeze

14 January 2016 at 4:10pm

long-distance blind-tasting!

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t says:  Not satisfied with letting distance come between our fun, a, v, g, and I got together on FaceTime for a “long distance blind wine tasting”*.  While not officially a “restaurant visit in SF”, we had so much fun I just had to write about it!  g whipped up her pasta-a-la-g, which was delicious as usual.  Meanwhile, a and I uncorked the wine-of-the-night and got to blind-tasting …

a sensed some “wet laundry” on the nose – I can’t say I could confirm that.  It did smell a little “wet” but more like forest floor moss than wet laundry (which in my mind smells kind of gross).  Nitpicky scents aside, the major nose element for me was more like a raspberry fruit roll-up.  On the palate, it was plush and smooth, with flavors of red and black berries, maybe even a little “plummy”.  But then on the moderate length finish, there was a nice spicy quality.  It tried to straddle between being a “t-wine” (plush and round) and a “v-wine” (spicy, leather, manly).  However, it wasn’t quite an “a-wine” – he’d prefer a little more tannin, a little more kick in the tongue.  a guessed “New World, Kitchen Sink Blend, America”.  I agreed with the new world style, but felt that the spicy finish just wasn’t right for an American Kitchen Sink blend (i.e. usually zinfandel, petit verdot, syrah, cab franc – grapes that are “left over” in California).  So I went for “new world Spain”, but for the life of me couldn’t think of any Tempranillo-based wine coming out so smooth on entry.  a adjusted his response to include “new world South America”.  We then did the big reveal:

 

2012 Bodega O. Fournier “Urban Uco” Malbec-Tempranillo Blend

Holy cow!  If you put all our guesses together, we kind of guessed it!  It’s a South American wine (Argentina), a new world blend of malbec (which is known for being fruity and very plush) and tempranillo (known for being a bit more “masculine” flavor profile with leather, tobacco, and spice).  And that’s exactly how it tasted – malbec up front, tempranillo on the finish.  We’re calling our guesses to be pretty spot-on!  What we didn’t appreciate at the time was that this wine was under $10!  Not bad!  If you see this on a shelf, go for it!  I imagine the production is large enough where it shouldn’t vary that much year-to-year, so I doubt vintage will change it THAT much.  Go ahead and compare it to 100% malbec bottle and a 100% tempranillo bottle.  It’s fun!

*”long distance blind wine tasting”:  Weird, right?  Before we came to SF, we made it so that the PHL crew (a + v) and the SFO crew (g + t) had the same six bottles of wine (range: $9-$29), fully wrapped and numbered, in a manner such that bottle #1 in PHL corresponded with bottle #1 in SFO.  However, the buyer (t) and the wrapper (g) were not in communication, and the buyer also has a terrible memory (having purchased a bunch of wines all at once), so the end result is that no one (neither g, t, a, nor v) has any idea of the identities of the wines aside from the numbers 1-6 emblazoned on each bottle.  When the time comes, a number is randomly selected, a corresponding bottle is opened simultaneously in Philly and SF, the wine is blind-tasted (bottles still wrapped), opinions recorded, and then there’s a “big reveal”!  Fun, right!  Someone should totally make a wine club like this!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

9 January 2016 at 3:32pm

Posted in Happenings

Welcome to SF!

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t says:  So as we’ve alluded to in the previous posts, we have now moved to what some call “The Best Coast”.  Moving to SF was full of issues, as it seemed that every little thing we planned did not go smoothly, from finding an apartment, to giving up our Philly apartment, to the movers arriving in SF, to the weather waiting for us (RAIN!) … it was a nightmare.  g and I think that the next time we move, we’re just going to burn all of our possessions to the ground and buy everything new …

Fortunately, we had the moral support of family to remind us that the terrible parts of moving would be short-lived, and they have been.  Despite the moving-related drama, we have had quite a few delightful meals here in SF!

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The first meal in SF we found was at a nearby restaurant called STEM.  While it’ll not likely win any awards for being the “most creative”, “most innovative”, or “most anything”, it had some very solid offerings that were just what we needed, as we had just been torrtentially rained upon.  This pumpkin soup was a warm hug …

 

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… while this bright farrow and broccoli rabe salad reminded us we were in California.

 

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And their accidentally-heart-shaped pizza really hit the spot – it was a pizza with no fuss, no frills – just the way we needed it to be.

 

Our first meal with our parents was at Anchor Oyster Bar.  Jeez.  It's been almost a week since we've gone as I sit down and write about it now, and my dad still can't stop talking about it - and for good reason!  The mussels were HUGE.  Every bit of seafood was perfectly cooked.  And the broth in the cioppino was so good, we actually took it home and made a pasta dinner the following night!  While I had been there once with cm and k, it was even better this time.  Crazy-good!

Our first meal with our parents was at Anchor Oyster Bar.  Jeez.  It’s been almost a week since we’ve gone as I sit down and write about it now, and my dad still can’t stop talking about it – and for good reason!  The mussels were HUGE.  Every bit of seafood was perfectly cooked.  And the broth in the cioppino was so good, we actually took it home and made a pasta dinner the following night!  While I had been there once with cm and k, it was even better this time.  Crazy-good!  We followed it up with some Bi-Rite Creamery ice cream (omg the creme brulee is insane) for a perfect evening.

 

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For our “fancy night out” we went to “The Progress”, courtesy of j, as suggested by kp.  It was a fabulous meal that hinted at the creative frontier of SF cooking.  While yes, there were some things my mom is convinced she could easily do at home (looking at you, kimchi wax bean tempura), it was quite tasty overall.  We approve.

 

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Yea, the pork was CRAZY good – and the crushed broccoli underneath was so much fun!

 

Finally, we took my parents to House of NanKing that was hilarious. I warned my parents, "So at this restaurant, don't expect any niceties" ... which was immediately followed by the server throwing down plates in front of us and telling us to move over so they could seat people at the adjoining table. Sure, they are rude as hell, but the food was so good. Fried shrimp packets are a must, the black bean sauce dumplings were amazing. When the food is this good, you write your own rules about customer service, I guess.

We took my parents to House of NanKing that was hilarious. I warned my parents, “So at this restaurant, don’t expect any niceties” … which was immediately followed by the server throwing down plates in front of us and telling us to move over so they could seat people at the adjoining table. Sure, they are rude as hell, but the food was so good. Fried shrimp packets are a must, the black bean sauce dumplings were amazing. When the food is this good, you write your own rules about customer service, I guess.

Finally, we also went to Brenda’s French Soul Food for brunch, but as we’ve covered it so often here, it should be no surprise that it was nothing short of every bruncher’s dream – eggs, carbs, sweets, beignets.  Just go there.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

2 January 2016 at 4:42pm

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