Food lovers descend upon San Francisco for good reason: The city is one of our country’s great dining destinations. Like New Orleans, it’s a port city sitting at an international crossroads, which throws open the gates to a wide variety of seafood, culinary influences and exotic ingredients. But unlike New Orleans, the seafood comes from the cold waters of the Pacific rather than the Gulf, the prevailing influences are Asian rather than French and Creole and the ingredients are culled from the nearby farms, vineyards and orchards of Napa Valley. Great food is available everywhere and in every neighborhood, so it’s easy to balance sightseeing with some great stops for lunch and dinner.
For food lovers, no visit is complete without a trip to the Farmers Market held twice weekly at the Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street. Saturday has the most to offer, but arrive early to beat the rush. While there, stop at The Slanted Door, one of the city’s best restaurants. Start with a selection of Chilled Galapagos Shrimp from the raw bar, served with a spicy cocktail sauce and Thai basil aioli, and enjoy its contrast with our local version. Move on to Seared Dayboat Scallops with red curry, celery root and Asian pear slaw. They are justifiably famous for their White Corn and Dungeness Crab Soup, so splitting a cup makes good sense and won’t take up too much of your appetite. Caramelized Tiger Prawns are a good entrée, as is the Stuffed Monterey Squid. Along with a great selection of wine and beer is an interesting artisan tea selection. Art Tea is a jasmine-infused green tea served in stemware that puts the focus on the lychee flower, which blooms inside the wineglass as it steeps. Reservations are highly recommended.
A walk through the Nob Hill neighborhood is picturesque but hilly, and left me in need of refreshment. I found it at Canteen, a tiny gem of a place at 817 Sutter St., just a quick downhill roll from Grace Cathedral. Resembling a capsule-sized diner, Chef Dennis Leary turns out a short but exquisite menu of innovative fare based on his whim and availability. A mid-summer visit brought out the best in tomatoes featured in a bright and refreshing Fresh Tomato Soup that was rounded out with the addition of buttermilk. A salad of Summer Lettuce was punched up with a curry vinaigrette softened by creamy yogurt; a particularly thoughtful combination that tasted at once both natural and inspired. Best of all was a Chicken Salad with pumpkinseeds, raisins and capers. The chicken was incredibly moist, prompting me to ask Chef Leary how he did it (he said he poached it briefly then turned off the heat, allowing the chicken to cool along with the water, keeping it especially tender).
A cardamom-infused pannacotta made for a light and exotically seasoned dessert. Seating is limited, so early lunch is a good time to visit, and locals say that the weekend brunch is a great time to check it out as well.
If you find yourself in the Marina neighborhood, check out A 16, a favorite local spot featuring some great Italian cuisine. For starters (if it is available) try the Mozzarella Burrata – an unbelievably soft and creamy iteration of the cheese that knocked me off my feet. Meat-lovers will find some great house-cured Bresaola, along with a Cinghiale Salami notable for its tenderness, as so often cured sausages necessarily tend to be quite dry. A dish of Tuna Conserva with borlotti beans and pickled onions won’t win any beauty awards, but you’ll want more when the plate is clean. A great selection of Italian wines by the glass will authenticate the meal, and a sweet desert menu featured highlights like a Honey Semifreddo with cornmeal croccante and blueberries.
New Orleans plays host to the 2008 Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Conference this month. This 15th Anniversary Celebration of the organization is entitled “The New New Orleans: Reinventing Ourselves Through Culinary Diversity.” Leah Chase, Susan Spicer, Allison Vines-Rushing and Ti Adelaide Martin are among the many local personalities in the conference.
Educational sessions covering topics such as leadership skills and how to open your own restaurant are available, along with cooking demonstrations including “A Modern Take on Southern Desserts and New Orleans Cocktails: Classic and Contemporary.” The conference runs from September 20 to 22. For more information, call (877) 927-7787 or visit the Web site at www.womenchefs.org. ***
Galatoire’s is synonymous with tradition, but recently it loosened up a bit by allowing Executive Chef Brian Landry some free rein to demonstrate his talents with a three-course Business Lunch Menu. Served Tuesday through Thursday, this special menu offers highlights such as a refreshing Avocado Vichyssoise and a classic Tuna Niçoise Salad updated through the use of baby lettuces and sushi-grade seared tuna. Look for the menu to change going into fall, but one thing that won’t change is the value – this is one of the best three-course fine dining deals around.
The Hazelnut with Nutella gelato at Gelato Pazzo is just one of the many awesome flavors that keep me coming back to this Oak Street café.
The Slanted Door | 1 Ferry Building #3 | San Francisco | (415) 861-8032
Canteen | 817 Sutter St. | San Francisco | (415) 928-8870
A 16 | 2355 Chestnut St. | San Francisco | (415) 771-2216
Galatoire’s | 209 Bourbon St. | 525-2021
Gelato Pazzo | 8115 Oak St. | 304-6908