sonoma and san fran: part 2

The weather in San Francisco was picture perfect. It was ideal for exploring the various neighborhoods, taking in Golden Gate and of course, the ultra touristy cable cars. Next to our dinners, waking up early for coffee and a cable car ride topped our list.

We stayed at the Hotel Monaco. I’m a big fan of this boutique chain and try to stay here whenever I travel. In San Fran, its location two blocks from Union Square is ideal. Plus, it’s a short cab ride from anything else you’d want to see.

After we made the all too common mistake of taking up a limo driver on his offer for a ride instead of cab, we finally made it to Incanto for our first meal in the city (let’s just say the driver had many issues, got out of the car at one point to threaten a bicyclist and that I had my hand on the door handle the entire time ready and willing to jump – Jamie found the entire ordeal hysterical, me not so much). If you don’t remember, Incanto is Chef Chris Cosentino’s place, who competed with Symon on the Next Iron Chef. I knew from watching that series we were going to eat here.

The rustic restaurant is very open and cozy with a great bar, partially open kitchen, gigantic and dramatic drapes and coffered ceiling. The menu, which changes daily, is Italian centric. A couple of nice touches I noticed right off the bat: They put a little card around your wine glass so you remember what your enjoying and they offer you sparkling or still water at no additional charge.

From where I was seated, I could see the chef in action carefully checking each plate before they left his kitchen. He also made several appearances outside of the kitchen to check that the front of the house was running smoothly.

Like his Iron Chef competitor, Chris knows his pig. He’s known for his cured meats throughout the city. So of course, I started with a half order of the antipasto platter of Boccalone artisan salumi. If this is a half order, they must give you the whole pig for the regular size! The portion was huge, and just too much to eat – and I love this stuff. The selection overall was rather enjoyable, but didn’t wow. But like I said before, this isn’t the chef’s fault. As Jamie said, once you’ve been to the mountain, everything else will always come in second.
While I was plowing my way through all things cured, Jamie enjoyed the arugula and almond salad with Medjool dates and ricotta salata. I assume it was delicious because he scraped the plate and said mmmm a lot.

Next came the Pig’s trotter (pig’s feet) with foie gras, bacon and strawberry-rhubarb jam. I can honestly say this is the first time I tried trotter and was pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed it. As you might expect, it was a little fatty, but the sweetness of the jam was the perfect compliment. Jamie especially enjoyed this and pretty much cleaned the plate.
For our meal, I had the handkerchief pasta with rustic pork ragu. Jamie went with the parsnip ravioli with pine nuts and sage brown butter. Well, this certainly did wow us. This chef knows his pasta. Now only was the pasta itself in each dish light and not too heavy, but the consistency of each dish was absolutely delicious. And as much as I enjoyed mine, it was Jamie’s that really stole the show. I’m still craving that ravioli – a seriously great dish of pasta.
The next night we had reservations at Boulevard. Honestly, we were both craving Asian despite the amazing things we heard about this place. I tried to get into The Slanted Door (we meant to go for lunch but never made it) and not surprisingly, couldn’t. Our concierge recommended Le Colonial telling us it’s very similar to Slanted Door with French Vietnamese cuisine. It turns out Jamie actually ate here before and was excited to hear he was going back.

I loved the decor and overall atmosphere of this place. It had a very 1930s vibe to it. The chandeleirs, furniture, tile floor and partially open courtyard really stood out.

I started off with the goi cuon, spring rolls with poached prawns, bean sprouts, mint, rice noodles and peanut sauce. For dinner, I went low key and ordered the con chien, jasmine rice with curry, shrimp, pork, egg and green onion. Jamie had the ca hap la chuoi, steamed Chilean sea bass wrapped in banana leaves with tomatoes and shiitake ginger in a black bean coconut sauce.

Another wow for San Francisco. As great as I’m sure Boulevard is and I’d still like to check it out someday, I am so happy we ended up here. With the exception of the spring rolls, which I thought weren’t bad but had a bit too much mint which was overbearing the other flavors, everything was fantastic. I really loved my rice, and maybe it’s because I haven’t let myself order anything that resembles fried rice in years. Either way, it really was great and very flavorful, as was Jamie’s. His was beautiful in presentation, too. The fish was cooked perfectly and paired really well with the sauce.

So there you have it – really good eating between Sonoma and San Francisco. But I have to say, even as impressed as we were there, I feel our chefs here are doing just as great of a job, and in some cases, better.