I took the day off on Friday so that Boy and I could have a bit of extra time in SF to hang out. It was a great choice because I really needed the extra break from work and plus SF was awesome. Two weeks of pouring rain had ceased right before our arrival the the city was so clear and beautiful. Our hotel was in the middle of Nob Hill, and at the top of one of the hills. After getting off the BART we walked through the chilly cosmopolitan streets trying to get to our hotel. It wasn't as close as we thought and we ended up walking up a HUGE hill pulling our heavy ass luggage. I nearly died at that point. By the time we flagged down a taxi we were about two blocks away, down the hill of course. So we persevered and reached our destination which turned out to be a whole lot of great friendly service and a lot of "Mr. Smith" and "Ms. Smith." Hehe.
After collapsing on the bed and trying to get my heartrate back down to a normal, non-exercising person's pace, we hit the streets. We headed for Haight St. to grab lunch and always immensely pleasurable afternoon drinks. A SF friend had recommended a few restaurants, and included in one of them was Rosamunde, a sausage grill. Boy got the Beer Sausage, made of smoked spicy pork and beef, with chili and onions. That was delicious but mine, the Wild Boar with apple and spices and topped with onions, sweet and spicy peppers, just made me so happy! Sausage and hotdogs are one of my favorite casual foods. So when made with super quality ingredients and nestled in the best roll ever from a bakery down the block, the sausage dog such as the wild boar one takes me to another level of happiness.
how awesome is this dog?!
We took this next door to Toronado, a beer bar, which Boy insisted was a necessity to visit on our trip. The bar was awesome, with about fifty beers on draft, with some that are not even available in Southern California. A real casual comfortable feel with regulars including a dog who liked drinking beer! We started off with Russian River's Pliny the Elder, a double IPA full of delicious floral hoppiness, and Moonlight's Bombay by Boat IPA. But the one that really stood out for me was New Belgium's La Folie, a Flanders red. This will probably go in my top 10 beers ever, along with other sour and fruity beers such as Lambics. "Wow" is my best description for the beer. I found a bit more appetite for another sausage so I went back next door and got a Merguez with onions and spicy peppers. So delicious. Yeah, I am such a glutton sometimes. :) But a good one at that.
After a little bit of shopping we started to head back so we could get ready for our dinner at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. For some reason we could not see a bus nor a taxi coming our way. What weird bad luck considering it was around 4 when we would expect to see a lot more traffic and transportation activity. We finally got a bus for a short ride to the Union Square area. There was no way we would be able to go back to our hotel to change and make it back to BART for a ride to Berkeley. I called Chez Panisse to see what their dress code was -- "casual." So with a sigh of relief we ran to the station, got a ticket, caught our breath during our ride, and was spit out onto Berkeley square right on time.
When I landed my eyes on Chez Panisse the beauty of the place blew me away. My first words were "wow" as I took in its woody cabin-like presence between two building, shining warm light through its windows. I fell in love with the place right away, eating up its rustic elegance highlighted by a certain gentle atmosphere. I was extremely excited for our dinner, having been on their waiting list for a few weeks but determined to make it in for my SF trip. When we walked in were a little bit self-conscious because we were dressed so casually but soon got over it as our host seated us made us feel right at home.
The menu for Friday, January 06, 2006 reads:
Maine lobster and beet salad
with orange vinaigrette
Wild mushroom and green garlic risotto
Grilled Paine Farm squab with Banyuls vinegar sauce, roasted turnips
and Brussel sprouts with pancetta
Poire belle Helene
We started off with lillet, a French Aperitif made from a blend of wine, brandy and herbs. It was served in small skinny glasses garnished with a peel of lemon. Delicious. With this delicious drink we munched on small roasted almonds and awesome bread from Acme Bakery. We got a half bottle of Billecart-Salmon Brut and very happily ate the wonderfully fresh lobster and beet salad, minus the fennel. I absolutely hate licorice flavor and could not get my self to continue eating the thin slices that lay within the salad. :( But the rest of it was beautiful.
For our second course and the main we got a half bottle of Navarro Pinot Noir 2003. It was a bit light but still good a good match with the risotto and the squab. The risotto was so perfect, making me realize right away that I had been over-cooking my risotto. With each bite the arborio rice grains presented its individual textures, making the consumption that much more interesting and engaging. The mushrooms used in the risotto were black trumpet, hedgehog, and chanterelle, adding a good earthiness to the dish but never overpowering the taste buds.
Then we experienced our first taste of squab. It was cooked so perfectly tender and carved beautifully. Served with delicious vegetables, including cabbage, turnips and brussel sprouts, which I went crazy for, the dish had a good balance of flavors. I nibbled on the remaining wings with my fingers. Sometimes eating food with fingers makes it so much more delicious. Boy was a bit apprehensive about using his fingers in the restaurant but my rationale was why would they give us the wing and the bony parts if they didn't expect us to eat all its delicious meat. And indeed when our server came by she asked us if we wanted to continue to nibble on the meat or if we were done. :)
The Poire belle Helene consisted of poached pears on top of creme anglaise drizzled with chocolate syrup, a scoop of chocolate ice cream, and a long sugar cookie dotted with sliced almonds. The pear was delicious but I thought the chocolate ice cream could be replaced with something more interesting. Maybe rosewater or even creme fraiche ice cream. And pinot noir reduction instead of the chocolate syrup. But don't get me wrong, it was delicious and beautiful.
And then they served us some membrillo and thumbprint cookies with lemon curd. Wow, the pleasure just never stopped coming. I ended this wonderful dinner with a Pearl Jasmine green tea. We initially entered Chez Panisse quite impressed with its beautiful restaurant, professional service, and reputable reputation, and left just so satisfied and happy with all the delicious food and great service. What an awesome dining experience. Definitely one of my tops.
the hardworking staff at chez panisse