San Francisco Dining
I’m finally home…and full! I don’t normally eat out once or twice a day, but when traveling (and when there’s so much good food to be had), it was hard not to book both meals out when I was in San Francisco.
While the restaurant economy works itself back from Covid, a number of places have decided to embrace the European-style policy (which is actually the norm in most of the world) of adding no tipping/service charge, which makes math-challenged people like me much happier. Not everyone is on board when restaurants make the change. Chez Panisse, where I worked, did it back in the ’90s, but a number of restaurants in America backtracked on it. As someone who has worked in restaurants most of his life, it’s nice to see the pay between the front and back of the house equalized and employees getting benefits such as vacations, sick leave, and health care, which people get in France.
Chime in here on your thoughts about tipping, especially if you are in the restaurant business:
Here’s round two of where I ate, which included some old favorites and a few new ones. (You can read part 1 of this list below.)
I literally had 41 minutes to see Pim, a friend from the early days of food blogging. She went from being one of the best-known food bloggers to starting a jam-making operation that was so successful she had a legendary waiting list for her jams to teaching charcuterie-making classes to her current position as a Michelin-starred chef presiding over three restaurants, one in Bangkok and two in San Francisco.
We’ve kept in touch through the years, and I’ve had the pleasure of eating at her other restaurant in San Francisco, Kin Khao, but I literally was not prepared for how good Nari is. Nari celebrates “generations of Thai women who laid the foundation for Thai cuisine,” and I had an array of appetizers at the bar that were sensational, which is not a word I use often.
I started apéro hour with an outstanding Pikul cocktail made with rye, pandan, allspice, and toasted coconut. Appetizers included spicy pork croquettes with pickles and greens, very fresh bay scallops with toasted cashews, celtuce, and Cara Cara oranges, as well as a new dish that features the first asparagus that showed up at the market, pairing it with boned chicken wings (imagine all that work…but the taste was worth it!), basil leaves, and citrus. I had to race to dinner with another friend, but I’ll be back to Nari, guaranteed.
When I moved to Paris, I went to one of the Japanese restaurants clustered on rue Sainte-Anne. I ordered something with tofu on it, and I didn’t speak much French at the time, but the waiter told me not to order it. So I didn’t. On the way out, I managed to ask him why. “Because French people don’t like tofu,” he replied.
I wasn’t French back then, and I also liked tofu. And now the street is packed at mealtimes with Parisians clamoring for ramen, donburi, and les sushis. (I don’t know if tofu is popular, but I don’t hear any complaints about it.) Most of the places are good-to-very good, but I wish we had a branch of Rintaro, where everything is extra fresh and of the highest quality.
My friend and I worked our way around the menu, including San Ten Mori (above left) with wasabi grown just south of San Francisco in Half Moon Bay (the menu lists where all the fish was caught), a plate of gyoza stuffed with Berkshire pork and chicken-foot jelly under a veil-like crust (above, center), and yakitori (skewers) of charcoal-grilled chicken livers with garlic sauce. We also had little tied-up sacks of mochi, tamago (rolled-up omelet), and several other little dishes that rounded out this excellent meal, which ended with hollowed-out citrus peels filled with their respective citrus jellies for dessert.
A friend who is a doctor, and has a sideline as a remarkably good eater, recommended Dumpling Empire in South San Francisco. When I arrived off the plane in San Francisco, circa 1983, to a city I’d never visited before, I remember seeing the big letters on the hillside next to the freeway:
I looked at the barren landscape around it and thought, “So this is the city many consider the most beautiful city in America?” I thought I’d been misled…until we drove a little farther north, arriving into San Francisco proper with its spectacular views of the Bay and the streets lined with colorful, charming Victorian houses. Then I got it.