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Entries in San Francisco (9)


La Torta Gorda

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*Post by Angela.

Even though we now live in a city with arguably the most authentic, best Mexican food in the country, we were still excited to head down to San Francisco's Misson District to try out La Torta Gorda, a little Mexican diner.



Like the neighborhood itself, La Torta Gorda is bright and colorful, if a little worn, and very comfortable. The kitchen and serving staff welcomed many of the patrons around us like old friends. In short, it was exactly what we were looking for on our lazy Friday after Thanksgiving.



We started out with a couple of quesadillas.  Our first selection was filled with flor de calabaza, or squash blossoms, which were tasty, but didn't impart as exotic as a taste as we were hoping for, given the main ingredient. Our slight disappoinment was blown out of the water by the huitlacoche quesadilla (below). So delicious for a fungus, with a great earthy flavor which paired beautifully with the sweetness of the corn.



Looking to load up on as many carbs as we could, we split a pierna enchilada, or pulled pork, torta (below), which may have been one of the more glorious sandwiches I've ever had. Piles of gorgeously tender pork, complex in flavor, along with slices of creamy avocado, were sandwiched in between addictively crunchy, flaky bread.



Because it was on the early side of noon, we ordered a breakfast dish, the tlayocos al albanil (below), which featured black bean-filled masa cakes topped with finely diced red onion, avocado slices, and perfectly fried eggs. This was not my favorite dish, mainly due to the prevalence of red onion, but it may have been Mark's, as he loved the combination of the dense (and freshly made) masa cakes, avocado and rich egg yolk.



Our final dish in our morning-after-Thanksgiving gorge was an unremarkable chicken dish (so forgettable that I can't even remember what it was), which was probably the least successful dish for both of us. While it was good, with perfectly acceptable chicken, rice and beans, and a nice smokey sauce, we weren't floored by it the way we were with our other selections. It seemed like the kind of dish we could have gotten at any Mexican restaurant (even the ones in West Hollywood).



With the exception of that last dish, even though Mexico is practically in our backyard, we experienced some of the best Mexican food we've had in recent memory by traveling 400 miles north. I don't know how that works, but I do know that next time I'm in San Francisco, I know exactly where to go for a coma-inducing lunch.

La Torta Gorda on Urbanspoon



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*Post by Mark.

San Francisco's Embarcadero hosts one of the waterfront's newest additions in Lafitte, a restaurant in its infancy where Chef/Owner Russell Jackson's innovative cooking is coupled with charming architecture and ambience. Decoratively a dead ringer for one of our east coast favorites - Baltimore's Woodberry Kitchen, Lafitte places itself in good ranks. The spacious and tranquil interior, its concrete floors, high ceilings and open-for-all-to-see kitchen are to be marveled over, as are the restaurant's exceptional views of Coit Tower (below left, if you squint) and the Bay Bridge (below right, also seen by squinting).



A soundtrack of Radiohead's post-modern 'Amnesiac' buzzed overhead as we we perused the brunch menu. The ink was still fresh on the paper as the final ingredients had likely been procured just moments before at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market next door. While the menu came hot off the presses, the drink and dessert menus were presented by iPad- hardly the only sign of the La Fitte's modern flair. For more evidence of how LaFitte is shaping the model of the new American kitchen, just check in with them from home on their live streaming kitchen webcam (I hope for their sake, Chef Jackson's crew doesn't have any stalkers... other than me that is).

The service was friendly, knowledgeable and engaging. There's a detectable sense of pride in the air when you step through the door. When the table next to us had a question about an ingredient, the server notably brought out the product in question for display. This tiny gesture was one of many that, in the course of an hour on a slow Saturday afternoon, evidenced Lafitte's commitment to a greater dining experience. Wether it be through an iPad or a raw root vegetable brought table-side, I found myself engaged with the menu, the process and the kitchen in ways contrary to most restaurants' one-way-street approach to serving food. Dining out can be about so much more than just great food, and for my money, Lafitte gets that



Oh, and we haven't even talked about the food!  We started out with some french press coffee to share and a pair of complimentary rolls (below). Expecting the rolls to be warm and moist, I was surprised to find them dense and delightfully sweet.



Angela embraced the cool, gloomy morning with the Winter Cassolet (below) - a hearty stew of porc-almond sausage, guineau hen and flagelot beans. This dish was the very definition of rusticity and heartiness, with juicy meats and a nice depth of flavor. Angela's one concern was that it could have been a little more exciting, but for a dish eaten after a long night out, it was just what her stomach was calling for.



Like a shark smelling blood in the water, I was roped in by the Lafitte Foie BLT (below) - how could I not? You don't understand. I had zero choice in this matter. This was a decision that was made months ago, when the mohawked chef decided to combine a BLT sandwich with foie gras. Me coming to San Francisco to eat it was merely the actualization of my previously determined destiny. Served alongside some lightly dressed butter lettuce and crispy, house-made, sweet potato gaufrettes, Lafitte's trademark Foie BLT keeps things simple. The creamy foie gras is topped with thick, juicy cuts of bacon, fresh greens, heirloom tomato and a grilled bun brushed with whole grain mustard. I went gangbusters on this sandwich and the gaufrettes didn't last much longer. Destiny never tasted so good. 



Of course we had to take a peek at the dessert menu if not just for another chance to play around on the iPad. The cookies, brownies and milk (below) caught our collective eye above all else and we munched on a fresh assortment of peanut butter nutella and chocolate chip cookies and chocolate harissa brownies. The soft chocolate chip cookies were a favorite, though I was briefly saddened that the bacon chocolate chip cookies I'd ogled on the menu weren't included in our selections. It is fair to assume that I'd already eaten the poor restaurant out of their bacon, or I surely would if given the chance. 



Jackson's menu changes daily, which can certainly make for an ambitious roller coaster ride. Some may frown upon the lack of structure, routine, and the general absence of the 'dress rehearsal'. In my limited experience, I may not be able to comment on the consistency of quality but can say that I appreciate the ever-changing adventure provided by the hands of a talented chef.


Lafitte on Urbanspoon


San Francisco: Sights, Food & Filipino Feasts

*Post by Angela.

As you know from our previous post, our time in San Francisco was cruelly cut short, resulting in kind of a whirlwind of trip to see all that we could see and do all that we could do in a day in a half. After our dinner at Bix, we roamed the city and did a surprising number of things for one evening, including enjoying the sight of a fog-embraced Bay Bridge, braving the icy winds with Christopher Colombus at Coit Tower...



taking a quick stroll along the tourist-packed Fisherman's Wharf...



 and zig-zagging down the Crookedest Street.



The next day, after spending a rather depressing morning watching World Cup games (including the game of which we will not speak), it was time for the main event - my grandfather's 95th birthday party!  My immediate family (sadly, minus my little brother Jim, who, as you know, is hard at work at med school in the Philippines, but happily plus Mark and my sister's fiancé) headed over to the celebration at Patio Filipino in San Bruno (below) ... a fitting name as it a) serves Filipino cuisine and b) has a patio.  

Surrounded by virtually all of my dad's side of the family (which includes 22 aunts and uncles, and over 30 cousins, plus my cousins' kids), I snapped photos of the food as the staff set it up, buffet-style, while manuevering my way through greetings, introductions, hugs, and kisses.  While my favorite part of the party was seeing my family, the food was no joke, either. My heart leapt with joy as they carted out the main attraction, this beyond beautiful lechon, or roast suckling pig. Lechon is a staple at Filipino parties, and just one bite of the crispy skin and succulent meat was enough to send me into a blissful coma.



I was also happy to see some pancit palabok (below, right, a sort of stir fry dish made with round rice noodles, vegetables, and in this case shrimp) and chicken afritada (below, left, a tomato-based stew made with potatoes and bell peppers).



There were several other traditional Filipino dishes, including kare-kare (an oxtail-peanut sauce dish which I've attempted at home) and bistek (beef and onions slow-cooked in soy sauce and calamansi juice). Vegetarians would have a difficult time finding something to eat - the only vegetarian offering I can remember was the lumpia sariwa, or fresh spring rolls, which came with a sweet glaze on top... or the uh... steamed rice.



And like every meal I've ever had with my extended family, all that food ended up in a messy melange on my plate (see below). I was a little worried that Mark wouldn't be able to find anything he liked, but he did okay. That being said, I think real authentic Filipino cuisine may take some getting used to - it's very heavy, often greasy, and fairly heavily seasoned. Being the food of my heritage though, I ate it up and was happy than...well, definitely happier than our roasted pig.



But the real star of the evening was the handsome gentleman you see below. He looks pretty incredible for 95, in my opinion. He loved having his family around him, and we were all so glad to be there. He was also pretty happy about that gorgeous cake, which was made by the very talented wife of one of my zillions of cousins.



All in all, it was an exhausting trip, but well-worth it. I was so happy to able to celebrate my grandfather's birthday with him and my huge family, and to be able to share that experience with Mark as well. That being said, hopefully our next trip to the city by the bay will be a little less hectic!



San Francisco: Bix Restaurant 

*Post by Angela.

Sometimes I really hate traveling, especially cross-country. The combination of packing, getting to the airport, being stuck in a flying potential death-trap for 6 hours or more, and adapting to the time change results in more stress than the term "vacation" might suggest. Our most recent trip to San Francisco (for my grandfather's birthday) was even more stressful than most - after changing plans repeatedly in order to fly out on Thursday night, and dragging ourselves (and our luggage) out to Dulles in scorching temperatures, we were bumped from our United flight and couldn't get another flight out until the middle of the next day. This unexpected hitch then resulted in us having to cancel our lunch plans at Boulevard, about which I had been really excited. Needless to say, when we finally walked out into the ridiculously, blessedly cool weather of San Francisco, we were exhausted and ready for a good meal. We met up with my parents, dropped our stuff off at the hotel, and headed to our early dinner reservations at Bix, tucked away in a little alley on the edge of the city's financial district.



We walked into the darkened interior and I was immediately struck by the gorgeous, golden-hued, Deco-inspired decor - this "elegant saloon" was ornate, yet cozy at the same time. Similarly, the serving staff was efficient and relatively formal, yet pretty friendly (even in the face of a spilled water glass).

We got into the spirit of this "civilized speakeasy" by ordering a couple of Bix's cocktails: a Bix Rickey, enlivened by fresh strawberry puree (below, left), and a refreshing Ginger Gimlet (below, rigth).



As so often happens during our dining experiences, we had a bit of trouble narrowing down our choices when faced with the extensive, regionally-focused appetizer menu. We started with deviled eggs with chives, summer beans and truffle shavings (below). We've had some great deviled eggs on our culinary journeys together (the eggs at Woodberry Kitchen come to mind), and these are right up there - the earthy richness of the truffle shavings melted luxuriously into the creamy filling, and the chives added just the right touch of freshness.



Mark suggested an injection of greens, so we ordered a salad with locally grown baby lettuce with Marcona almonds, manchego cheese, nectarine slices, and a sherry vinaigrette. The individual ingredients were top-notch (particularly the Marcona almonds, which I am in love with) and prettily presented. Mark loved the combination of the nectarine with the almonds, but I was a little bored by the flavors. Nevertheless, it was a completely respectable salad.



For our final appetizer, we gave Bix's mini lamb burgers with cucumber, dill and harissa a shot. We've got pretty high standards for lamb sliders, and these were very good, juicy, well-seasoned, and nicely proportioned. The dill and harissa were a little too muted (in my opinion, when you're dealing with sliders, the bigger the flavors, the better), but the coolness of the cucumber was a welcome note.



Compared to the appetizer list, the entree offerings are slightly more limited. Mark, my mom and my dad were all drawn to the American Kobe bavette steak with pommes puree, roasted cipollini onions, and natural jus (below). The beef was really tender (without being mushy), flavorful and juicy, and the cipollini onions were sweet and buttery soft. Mark felt that the accompanying mashed potatoes were a little uninspired, but generally, everyone was fairly happy with the dish.



I broke from the pack and ordered the sauteed Alaskan halibut with butter beans, roasted squash, tomatoes and spring onions. The fish was flaky and buttery, and the accompaniments were garden-fresh. Again, the dish was perfectly executed, just a little unexciting (to my mind).



As stuffed as we were, we couldn't leave without getting a couple of the desserts. Mark ordered for the both of us getting the dark chocolate mousse with local bing cherries and sea salt (below, left), and the warm chocolate brioche bread pudding (below, right). The richness of the silky mousse was nicely cut with the tart cherries and sea salt, and the bread pudding - with a texture more like a souffle than a bread pudding - was really decadent, almost to the point of overwhelming. If it tells you anything, we couldn't finish either dessert (though Mark made a valiant effort).



All in all, we had a solid meal in a beautiful setting. I think that sometimes, unless a kitchen gets really creative with its flavors and ingredients, Mark and I get a little burned out on contemporary American dining options - after a while, they all seem to offer the exact same dishes, which is why we've been trying to sample more ethnic cuisine as of late. Bix offered us more of the same, and I just think we were expecting a little bit more, given San Francisco's reputation as a foodie destination. That being said, each dish was technically very well-executed, and I always applaud the use of regional ingredients. And given that we had the best company in the world, the dining experience was enough to make my traveling woes start to melt away.


Bix on Urbanspoon

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