Last week I spent several days in easily one of my favorite cities – San Francisco. Work brought me there so I didn’t have too much free time. But we did have our nights free, which of course were spent taking in all the wonderful flavors and sights of the city.
My friend Heidi Robb recommended I check out this small, unassuming neighborhood restaurant in the Fillmore district inspired by a typical Roman osteria (SPQR stands for Senatus Populesque Romanus which means the people and senate of Rome in Latin). The seasonal menu is heavily influenced by locally sourced produce, heritage meats and Italian traditions.
I went for a late brunch on Sunday after I landed. I snagged one of the only open seats up front by the window, which was perfect – I could split my time between people watching on the street and the diners inside. The brunch menu is limited and features a few breakfast-ish options, homemade pastas and a nice selection of hot, cold and fried antipasti.
I opted for the wild arugula with grapefruit, red onion, fried bread and ricotta salata, plus Amatriciana with guanciale, tomatoes, red onions, pecorino and chiles with rigatoni.
The simple salad look rather bland and basic in appearance but was the exact opposite in taste. Each bite was better than the previous. It reminded me of a salad I had in Hawaii on my honeymoon; ridiculously fresh and good.
As for the pasta, I am a sucker for Amatricana – whenever I see it on a menu, I have to order it. It’s easily my favorite pasta dish and one I make often at home. Dining out, I’ve yet to find a version I liked as much as the one at the old Battuto (although Baricelli comes close). That is, until now. Which still does me no good because Battuto is closed and it’s not like I’m in San Fran on a regular basis!). The sauce has a nice layer of heat, lots of wonderfully salty guanciale and the pasta was a bit al dente, exactly the way I like it. I would order this exact same meal over and over and be just as happy.
As for Fillmore, what a great neighborhood. I spent an hour walking and exploring.
I originally had intended to go to Sebo, which was highly recommended by chef Chris Cosentino at Incanto, which we dined at last year. However, the menu is heavily raw, which is ideal for me, but not so much my coworker. So I’ll have to save this little sushi restaurant for the next trip. Instead, we visited Bar Jules, which was actually on my list from last year’s trip, but we were never able to squeeze it in.
Bar Jules is in the Hayes Valley neighborhood. It’s also a small, neighborhood restaurant that serves produce from local farmers and sustainable meat and fish. There are no menus. Instead, the chef decides the day before and day of based on the season and what’s available locally. There’s a giant chalkboard donning the bluish-turquoise wall that features the day’s choices.
From the neatly written offerings, we chose the mussels with white wine, butter, garlic and English peas; potato and leek gratin with anchovy, parm and breadcrumbs, lamb chops with mashed celery root and watercress; and wood-grilled blue nose bass with asparagus, new potatoes, egg and tarragon dressing.
I knew ordering the gratin was going to be a mistake. I’m still trying to lose the rest of my baby weight (I eat out a lot, but I (mostly) eat smart) and there is nothing weight -friendly about gratin – and I don’t have the willpower to have just one bite. Which of course I didn’t because this dish was sinfully savory and good and unlike any gratin I’ve had before. Thankfully, I didn’t have to feel as guilty about the other dishes. The plump mussels were a hit as was the lamb chop. The only dish I could have done without was the fish. To me, it was just ok.
The Slanted Door
Easily the best view from our trip came by way of a window seat at The Slanted Door inside the Ferry Building overlooking the bay. Slanted Door features simple authentic Vietnamese food done well – really, really well.
The food is served family style, and with our server’s help, we decided on an order of Japanese yellowtail with crispy shallots and Thai basil, SD spring rolls with shrimp, pork, mint and peanut sauce (this sauce was so good you want o drink it), asparagus and Dungeness crab soup, caramelized tiger prawns with garlic, onions and chili sauce and finally, Zuckerman Farm asparagus with nameko mushrooms.
There were absolutely zero complaints with this meal. From start to finish, wine to dessert (beignets with cinnamon sabayon), each bite was perfect. Even the asparagus – so simple and lonely on the plate, was incredible. Really good flavor and aromas from every dish. But my favorite would have to be the yellowtail. It was so good, I almost ordered another and even considered stopping back the next day just to have it again!
On the last day of the conference, I decided to skip the lunch and walk back down to the Ferry Building. Inside, I quickly perused the vendors and decided to make a lunch out of a couple things that caught my eye. I grabbed a small sourdough roll that was still hot, some fresh prosciutto from Boccalone and a few tastes of cheese from Cowgirl Creamery and sat outside on a bench staring into the bay. This was a much wiser alternative to the stale and starch offering at the Marriott.
Now that I’m a mom, and especially since Natalie is so little, traveling is hard – very hard. I don’t like to be apart from my family and I feel guilty for leaving Nat. But let me tell you, meals like these in a city as wonderful and beautiful and eclectic as San Francisco does help lighten the sting!