Tuesday, October 19, 2010

California (Day #1)

My friend Nadine and I planned a rather impromptu trip to California in the beginning of October. With ideas of moving to the West Coast, our trip started in San Francisco and ended in Los Angeles ten days later with no specific plans other than have a good time. Going on vacation with no plans was a bit scary, but it really worked out. It allowed us to be flexible and really do what we wanted to do. Having an open itinerary gave us total freedom of our vacation.

Our first stop was in San Francisco. I had never been to San Francisco, but heard it had an incredible food culture and I was so interested in discovering it. The "fusion" and "farm to table" movements were said to be started in San Francisco. Alice Waters was one of the chefs credited for starting these movements. California is one of the biggest states geographically and it produces some of the nations richest ingredients. After a five-hour flight, I was ready to explore the city and its world-renowned food culture.

We started our food adventures at the Ferry building. Our first stop was at Boccalone where we enjoyed a meat cone of tasty, salted pig parts. The cone came with an assortment of cured meats for $3.50! Boccalone is a creation of celebrity chef Chris Cosentino and Mark Pastore. Boccalone is a small spot, but packs a big punch with its great variety of cured meat. I would definitely recommend getting a meat cone if in the Ferry Building. While in the Ferry building, we stopped by The Slanted Door for a few cocktails and appetizers. The Slanted Door is one of San Francisco's most popular restaurants as Chef Charles Phan brings his renditions of Vietnamese classics to the San Francisco community whether it be businessmen, hipsters, or tourist.

We elected to sit at the beautiful bar that wrapped around the restaurant. I liked the fact that the bar was clean and elegant whereas there was no bottles up for show. Most of the cocktails on the menu used low batch spirits, which I could definitely appreciate. The bartenders wore black t-shirts were gave a casual vibe, but they knew their stuff. Chatting it up with the bartenders was fun as they seemed to really love the cocktail and wine culture which is so prevalent in San Fran.

The cocktail list seemed pretty legit, but I definitely took note of the lack of bourbon/whiskey and tequila cocktails. Gin and rum seemed to be the most popular spirits involved in many of the drinks on the menu. Nadine first drink was the Agricole Rhum Punch which La Favorite rhum agricole ambre, lime, cane syrup, with dashes of Angostura and allspice dram with nutmeg. My first drink was the Bee's Knees which is Miller's Westbourne strength gin, blackberry honey, and lemon juice--simple yet delicious. These two cocktails were great started cocktails as they were light and refreshing--perfect for the mid-afternoon sun. Being close to wine country, I decided to get a Gruner as my next beverage as Nadine stuck with the cocktails getting the Clover Club--Beefeaters gin, organic raspberries, lemon, dry vermouth, and egg white served up.

Her cocktail and my wine were both delicious and paired wonderfully with our food. The food menu was limited because we were there on off peak hours, but we had some great food. We got the Slanted Door spring rolls which was a great mixture of shrimp, pork, mint, and peanut sauce. We also got an order of the Grilled Tiger Prawns which was served over rice noodles with vegetarian imperial roll, cucumber and mint. Both the Slanted Door Spring rolls and tiger prawns were awesome. Just writing about it makes me want to go back and start that vacation all over--in that very exact spot.

Our next spot was La Mar, just a quick walk from The Slanted Door. La Mar is a chic outpost for Peruvian cuisine and pisco-based cocktails. We sat in the bar area, which was kind of small but had a great vibe. There was one waitress holding down the small, but bustling space--pretty impressive. The waitress was not only hardworking, but friendly and knowledgeable as she described some of the menu items to us.

All specialty cocktails are derived from pisco, a liquor distilled from grapes. Despite many disputes between Chile and Peru, the region of Pisco is actually in Peru. Signature drinks include the pisco sour, pisco sangria, and pisco punch. Not only did I love how La Mar stayed true to its concept with all pisco drinks, but they were all $5! Creating a signature drink with an uncommon liquor such as pisco could be tricky as guests could sometimes be scared of something different, but La Mar does a good job in promoting the cocktails through the price and the service. Not only did we try all the above mentioned pisco drinks, but we also tried the Saxon which was pisco, basil, lemon twist, and yellow chartreuse--delicious!

As far as food, we ordered from the platos frios section. These dishes were small plates, perfect for exploring this exotic Peruvian cuisine. Some of the things we tried...

rollo fashion 6
sushi roll with dungeness crab, cucumber and avocado topped with sliced
salmon and crispy rice noodles with a sweet soy reduction

causushi limeña 4
rolled yellow potato with dungeness crab, avocado purée, cherry tomato
and huancaina sauce anticuchos

Cebichin Mixto 7
chopped mahi mahi, calamari, Japanese octopus and habanero pepper in
a lech de tigre natural with cilantro and red onion

ensalada playera 9
Arugula with calamari, octopus, shrimp, roasted bell peppers, avocado, onions,
tomato and fava beans with a parsley, lemon and rocoto vinaigrette

butifarra 7
Roasted pork leg, butter lettuce, mayonnaise and huancaina sauce on a bun
served with salsa criolla

Everything we ordered was great as it was artfully presented and delicious. All the ingredients used were super fresh! My favorite out of the bunch was the causa limena--so freaking good!

Our final stop was to the Embarcadero's Pier 23, recommended to us by the bartender at The Slanted Door. This was a slight change of pace from the first two scenes as Pier 23 was a casual eatery meets dive bar. We sat outside on the ramshackle patio as a diverse crowd piled in around us. I don't know why we ordered food, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. The menu was typical of a sports bar--nothing too exciting. We got chicken wings, calamari, and an artichoke dip to pick at while we sipped on some more drinks. Nadine got a sugary concoction that was pretty gross as I tried a Widmar Hefeweizen that was pretty delicious. After some further research I found out that Widmar is a brewery based out of Portland Oregon--for you beer lovers!

The server at the patio didn't seem old enough to serve alcohol and wasn't too knowledgeable on the menu BUT its not that kind of a place so we'll give the kid a pass. I did find it odd that there was a lady dressed in a weird costume selling cigarettes, candy, and other goodies. Of course Nadine chatted the lady up while I enjoyed beautiful views of the sunset over the bay. After a few beers, I found myself in a food coma so we did what anyone would have done--went home and took a nap! Unfortunately, we didn't make it out that night but we had an awesome first day so we couldn't be upset.

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