I dined at seven San Francisco restaurants recently and ordered only one dish - onion soup with bone marrow dumplings at Cotogna - and requested extra of one dessert - chocolate peanut butter fudge at Boulevard. Why? Because my dining companions ordered like just-released convicts gobbling on a stolen black Amex.
Bouli Bar, Zuni, Boulevard, Cotogna, Coqueta, Quince, Tosca Cafe is where I went with Nancy Silverton and friends: Nancy Oaks, Dahlia Narvaez, Lindsay Tusk, Michael Tusk, Jen Davidson, Jonathan Waxman, Chad Colby, Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani, who alone could order for the 6th Fleet.
I spent six days total in San Francisco. The first four were with my nephew Mesrop, the priest of the St. John Armenian Church in Twin Peaks. Mesop, his wife Annie and I ate very well, too, though not lavishly. Still, of all the foods I ate in Herb Caen's Baghdad by the Bay, the best of the best was some bread and butter in Annie's kitchen. Details down this column.
But, first, here are the dining highlights of our December trip to San Francisco.
KABOCHA & BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP at Boulevard. I was walking back from the bathroom here, which was a trek from our table near the front of the restaurant, when I spotted this closed-eyed lady relishing some soup. Me, I'm into a good soup, unlike Nancy S who sometimes quotes - or misquotes - Mario B with a "soup sucks" quip. This soup didn't suck, I sucked it. It had this cave-aged 17-month-old Gruyere custard in the middle. Damn. And there was some Burgundian truffles and Armangac up in this soup as well. (Note - The Boulevard menu says the Gruyere is "cave"-aged, but it might have just been stored in a garage, for all I know.)
CRISP HAMA HAMA OYSTERS & BEEF CARPACCIO at Boulevard. Nancy Oaks "double plopped" ( the formal restaurant term for dropping two unexpected plates on diners) these scrumptious oysters with a batter did not mask their bright flavor. They came with spinach hollandaise, spinach oil and grated horseradish. Problem with these oysters was I had to share them with other people who so busy talking about restaurants I don't think appreciated the Hama Hamas like I did.
A Boulevard dinner menu - https://www.boulevardrestaurant.com/#menu-dinner
FAGOTELLI di FONDUTA at Cotogna. Cotogna is Michael and Lindsay Tusk's casual cousin to Quince and it is a place I always recommend to travelers to San Francisco, even to people I don't know and want nothing to do with me. This is basically a square, folded pasta stuffed with some cheese. Right? And that onion soup I ordered? I order it again.
This here is the dinner menu http://www.cotognasf.com/pdf/cotogna-dinner.pdf
EGG WITH CRISPY POTATO at Coqueta. This Spain inspired jazzy spot by Michael Chiarello and his team, at Pier 5 on The Embarcadero, was one of the delightful surprises of the trip. I never even heard of this place. But, I think Lissa and Hiro said "go" here. Everything was good, but this dish, a sunny-side egg topped with strands of potato and tender, medium shrimp was excellent. We also had a sliced bone-in ribeye that tasted right. Michael Chiarello is the big name, but the chef de cuisine at Coqueta is Ryan Mcilwraith.
Last night I was at the bar at Osteria Mozza and Rod Dyer, the charming designer and long-time owner of the gone Pane e Vino, was raving about this Ryan. I had to agree.
Famed Mozza pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez said she wanted to bring her husband Chris Feldmeier to San Francisco just to eat at Coqueta as soon as he goes on "hiatus". So that could be any moment. (That dude is on hiatus more than congress. I never heard anyone use that word so much as Feldmeier. He's like a kid who just learned how to say "motherfucker").
But, Coqueta? Go. On top of it, the "barman', his name is Joe Cleveland. That's Damon Runyon for you right there.
The lunch menu of Coqueta: http://coquetasf.com/wpcontent/uploads/2013/11/Coqueta_Lunch-Menu_110713.pdf
TRIBUTE TO JUDY RODGERS DINNER at Quince. - The second day I was in town at my nephew's i got a text from my friend, writer Kirk Russell, that "Judy was gone". The love of Kirk's life, his wife Judy Rodgers, famed chef of Zuni Cafe, author of Nancy Silverton's favorite cookbook, and valiant battler, had died at age 57.
The reason Nancy S had come up here, with Dahlia and Chad Colby was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Quince, which recently won a second star from the Michelin Guide. Her and Jonathan Waxman were staring. But, Lindsay and Michael Tusk, upon hearing about Judy, made it a tribute dinner with the proceeds gong to cancer research at UC San Diego that Kirk praised. Out of respect to Judy, we all went by Zuni Cafe earlier for a five o'clock drink.
The dinner that night was an eight course, six wine flingr that started with Chad Colby's masterful salumi and then moved on to Burrata with royal Osetra, that familiar old cheese and caviar routine we all grew up with. Waxman's potato gnocchi with celery root and black truffle could - in a proper world - put popcorn outta business. A tub of that and "Paper Moon". You feel me?
Michael Tusk didn't back off with a goose tortelllini. Waxman came on again with a homage to Judy's Zuni chicken. and then Chad swooped for the coup de grace with a rack of veal, or as we call it at chi Spacca, butter with veal meat and bones. Dahlia Navraez ended the show with an intense chocolate cake that your neighbor didn't make.
After that, we went out to eat at Tosca Café. Hey, I told you we were with Lissa Doumani. You may have heard of food sherpa's, folks from different cities who take travelers out to eat in their town. Well, Lissa is like my boy Tenzing Norgay, the Nepalese Sherpa who guided Ed Hillary up Mount Everest in 1953,
Here's a Dec. 17th menu at Quince. You'll see the Tusks don't play. http://quincerestaurant.com/brickandtimber/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Quince-menu52.pdf
MIDNIGHT SNACKS at Tosca Cafe. I had never been to the North Beach landmark called Tosca, but after hearing several stories about this "dive saloon" with a juke box full of Puccini and Sinatra and a vivacious lady owner, I thought it was a borderline shame every city didn't have a Tosca. Our Friend Michael Cooper told me about how he hadn't been to Tosca for several years, went in recently and they knew his name, his drink and refused his money. Everyone likes that trio.
I understand it would be wrong to write about Tosca and not mention the heart of Tosca, Jeannette Etheredge. She's around, though not the owner anymore. Her likeness is on the coasters. That's tribute.
So the Ken Friedman, savvy New York City restauranteur, gets the place, along with one of our favorite chefs, April Bloomfield, and Tosca's running strong on all eight cylinders. And one can still hear "Musseta's Waltz" or "I Get a Kick Out Of You" for a quarter.
We ordered about 15% of the menu and it was all tasty, though my taste was growing weary. Still, if you're looking for a place to fall off the wagon. go here.
The ideal person to go with would be Jersey girl Jen Davidson, who is Jonathan Waxman's personal Kate Green. Jen is like, well, like she's has been injected with a new fun drug created by Walter White. I'd wager her and Kate together at nightfall would leave a swath of delirious destruction and lead a village to total moral decay. That's a compliment I don't give up often.
Here's Tosca's menu and a photo of the Jennette coasters: http://toscacafesf.com/food
PORK SHOULDER SANDWICH at Elmira Rosticceria. On LIssa Doumani's tip, I went here with my nephew and wife. Opened in May this year, it's is a small kinda modern place with open kitchen and a tempting chalkboard menu from Marc Passetti, former chef at the Fairmont hotel. He's been dreaming up this place since Jerry Rice was catching touchdown passes from Joe Montana. The pork shoulder sandwich, with fennel and salsa verde on Acme roll, was devoured. We also shared a "lampredotto", a tripe sandwich like you get at a good food truck Florence. The flavor was spot on. I'd go back here for sure, especially if was near the Civic Center. I was going to go again with the whole crew, but the passing of Judy gyrated plans. Here's Elmira Rosticerria's facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/ElmiraSanFrancisco
PITA BREAD WITH MEZZE at Bouli Bar.. This is the new place of the ladies of Boulette's Larder, a long time Ferry Building favorite. The pita bread, damn, I think it was the best pita bread I ever had, not that I'm a pita scholar. The six, seven mezze I dipped the pita into were all good, the standout being a hummus made of winter squash.
Here's a Bouli Bar menu: http://www.bouletteslarder.com/dl_menu_pdf/bouli_bar_lunch.pdf?1387483405523
BREAD AND BUTTER at Annie's Kitchen. - This was it. Way back at the top of this I wrote the top taste I had in San Francisco was in the kitchen of my nephew and his wife, Annie. i wrote that a long time ago, but I stand by it. The sesame bread was purchased hot from the oven of Tartine Bakery around 4 p.m., ( thee time to get bread there)_ and the salted butter was Pamplie from the Poitou Charentes region of France. I got it at Molly Stone, a very good grocery store in Twin Peaks.
Resisting on the Muni to tear into the bread and smear it, I went lion on zebra in the kitchen. Umm. When I took those first blessed bites, I was thinking "Yeah. Bread and butter. Still my favorite."