The Dish on Toast

This time last year, I was opting out of $4 toast from The Mill in San Francisco. Since then, the toast craze has exploded nationwide, and people are making ridiculous, delicious, or both, pieces of art on a slice of bread. Granted, the toast at the Mill is mostly $4 for the bread itself (Josey Baker), as the toppings consisted of Nutella and cinnamon sugar. But Bon Appétit made the toast trend their cover story in January. Truly, what’s better than adding a fun combo of foods you’d eat alone onto a crispy slice of toast? Especially when you’ve made the bread yourself! If you didn’t though, that’s cool. Read on for party-starting, trendingly on fleek toast.

Little spin on what seems to be a classic: ricotta and honey, plus some lemon zest for fun.
Everything is better with lemon zest.
Another classic: lox/smoked salmon and cream cheese.
Sprinkle some form of dill for a good time.
Inspired by Bon Appétit: smushed avocado, thinly sliced cucumber (peeler!)
with lemon zest, and red pepper flake. And salt, somewhere!

A Summer in San Francisco

     To continue my end-of-blogging tendencies, I have run out of time to share all my gastronomic adventures with y’all in a chronologically appropriate time. So it is now the time to conglomerate the  highlights of the rest of my endeavors in San Francisco, the night before my flight back to the East Coast, when I should instead be making lunch/dinner/meal for the stingy domestic flight that won’t provide me with one for free. Featured here is the best chocolate chip cookie I purchased in the city, the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, Tartine Bakery (big deal), and Chile Pies and Ice Cream, north of the Panhandle.

     So another As Seen on “Unique Sweets” player here is Goody Goodie Cream and Sugar. This place is tucked away very nicely in what I guess is technically Mission. Nothing much is in the area, except some excellent chocolate chip cookies. I met the woman behind the baked goodness, Remi Hayashi. She was very kind and filled me in on her secret when I asked her what was crunching in the goody goodie cookie, with four different kinds of chocolate: cocoa nibs. Nuts, right? No, not nuts at all. This is all chocolate and almost no batter (once you bite into it). I would say a definite 2:1 chocolate to dough ratio here, no lie. And what’s better than a free milk shot to go with your cookie? Not much.

     They’re also just very attractive cookies. Perfectly round and colored on top. Also nice and thick.

 There she is, doing her cookie thing.

     This farmer’s market though…the biggest in the city, is up and running Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Saturday is from 8-2pm, and as you can imagine, the chef/restaurant owners don’t fancy wading through the crowd for the leftovers at noon, so the die hards get there right at 8 am for the best pickings and fewest people. One Saturday morning I got up at 7 just to get to the farmer’s market when it wasn’t crowded. I don’t do too well with crowds and grocery shopping: ask my classmates and they’ll tell you I wait until 10 pm to go to Wegmans. Well I got to the farmer’s market and while it was foggy, it was just so pleasant. Also beautiful (note tomato arrangement above). So many stone fruit samples. How else do you pick where to get your $3.50/lb nectarines?

Come hungry and get ready for a sugar crash later.

     Pluot: yes, plum-apricot.
Big bowl of greens.
Big popular bakery and a guy with cool glasses.
 So, animal fur. I guess it counts as being sustainable if you’re killing the
animals for their meat anyway, right?

It’s not just in the South of France (though it’s probably best there tbh).
     Oh, we can’t forget Umami Burger. Also known as $12 for a lot of truffle oil and “flavor”. There was nothing wrong with the burger per se, but I didn’t feel like the price was worth it. I have since tried a $3 In ‘N Out Burger, though, and was a good old fast food fix.
 Trying to go all Japanese. Not a bad looking place.
Community tabling it.

Check it: the original Umami Burger, with Parmesan crisp (baked Parmesan
chip), tiny shiitake mushroom, roasted tomato, caramelized onions and
house-made ketchup.

Megan got the Truffle Especiale with Parmesan frico, truffled arugula,
truffle butter, and a fried egg. #mushrooms #trendy

With a side of truffle cheese fondue fries. Topped with “truffle salt”. Sometimes
you just gotta lol. The fries were for sure tasty though I’ll give Umami that.

     I don’t know how to describe the importance of Tartine Bakery to San Francisco, except to say that it’s very important. Everyone knows it, everyone has been there, and everyone probably has their preferred menu item. I have never passed the corner café without seeing a line of this length out the door. I do know that no-lines happen on occasion, though. One Saturday morning I found myself in the Mission and thought it only appropriate to try something.

     It’s a very small place, so don’t expect to get a table without waiting. But you go in – or rather line up, get in, order, and find somewhere to stay if you want. I think there may be some wait staff thing going on if you order lunch. Here are some literal sneak peek photos I took in stealth mode/from the hip (I’m getting better maybe?).

 They do all sorts of things here. I think that’s the lemon meringue cake
getting worked on back there.

Here is the finished product.

They’re famous for their bread pudding.

No wonder.
But they’re also famous for their morning buns. Remember C&W’s morning bun? The prices of the two differ by 20 cents, but the experience is galaxies apart. What came to mind when I was thinking of how to describe C&W’s bun was too harsh to post. But you must understand: I almost cried eating this morning bun. I almost bought another. Warm, citrusy, gooey, sugary meltedness on the top, barely done in the middle, incredible. Like no cinnamon roll I will ever have. If you go to San Francisco for one thing, make it this morning bun. I was so extremely content when I left. Thank you, Tartine Bakery.

     Chile Pies and Ice Cream are known for putting chiles in their apple pie with a cheddar crust or some such combo. I say why ruin a perfectly good pie, as does my intern buddy Erin, but I guess I can’t knock it yet since I went with the seasonal white nectarine with raspberries, paired with lemon cookie ice cream from SF’s Three Twins Ice Cream. I think one of those twins went to Cornell! This place is part of Green Chile Kitchen, a fun looking restaurant right next door to their NoPa location (north of Panhandle…does anyone really use NoPa as a neighborhood name?). It has some sort of old-fashioned, maybe rustic vibe to it. Check out that table top.

With a menu that changes daily, they have this cool roll of paper pinned to the wall.

Fun lights, except I couldn’t see all that well.

If you’re staying to eat, they’ll heat up your pie nice and gud. They also make
pie shakes. They will take your pie slice of choice and make it into a shake.
I’m not sure, either. Next time.

Fun lights like I mentioned.

       I’m leaving this city with more questions than answers, but at this point, with one semester to go and future choices to be considering, it’s not a bad thing. This time tomorrow I will be on the hustle side of things for one more round. Stay tuned for ridiculous senior(itis) endeavors, and thanks for reading this far! Keep your rubber scrapers handy for a fun cupcake recipe from weeks ago too…

As Seen on "Unique Sweets": Hooker’s

     If it hasn’t caught on around you yet, let me tell you about the latest sweet treat fad: salt.
It’s not even that it’s new, or that Hooker’s started something completely radical. But I’ve found it everywhere in the city: on top of chocolate chip cookies, in fancy grinders showing off fancier colors (Himalayan pink, anyone?), ice cream, and soap. Kinfolk Magazine has even written a letter (from pepper) to salt, to slow its roll. Here, Hook is using salt to truly enhance the flavors coming out of his confections. And it works.
     Again, I actually walked past this small and adorable place on my way to it. Very hole-in-the-wall, grab-your-coffee-on-the-way-to-work kinda place (they sell SF’s Sight Glass coffee here too).

     Exhibit A: Party Girl Caramel – “she’s a sassy and spicy sweet treat with plenty of fun in every bite…she’s loaded with toasted pecans, coconut, corn cereal, pretzel bits, and sits on a smoked sea-salted dark chocolate base.” So some of the descriptions weird me out a little, but check it out – all that in one caramel. There’s caramel in that, right? Yes…I think so. I went for a “Straight Boyfriend” (make that descriptions and names), pictured below: with peanuts and a graham cracker base, if I remember correctly.

     “We’re about aesthetics.” That’s what Matt told me when we discussed a potential photo project with Hook, the owner and creator of Hooker’s. This is clear. Check out the cocoa nibs on top of that white-chocolate dipped caramel.

     The original gangster, right here. This is where it’s at. If you’re going to buy a $2 caramel, go straight to the source of inspiration/the most caramel you can get in one go. No extras, no fillers. Just caramel and chocolate. And salt.

     I would call Hook’s flavors and combinations…thoughtful. There are a lot of different things going on with his caramels, but not so many things in one caramel that you can’t appreciate the flavor of the caramel itself. But I like me a good classic treat. Especially if I’m a n00b to the game and need to know what I’m getting into.

     The one thing I knew I had to try when I went though was the caramel bar, where they flatten a cookie base onto a baking sheet and throw a bunch of original caramels on it so they melt right onto the cookie. It was just as good as it sounds. If you’re wondering how I think that sounds, SO GOOD.
Definitely at the top of my list. If you’re into San Francisco-priced dessert. $2 for a caramel and $3 for a bar. But hey, it’s a treat-yoself kinda place.

As Seen on "Unique Sweets": Z Cioccolato

     According to tvfoodmaps.com, there are actually THIRTEEN locations visited by Unique Sweets in San Francisco. This does not include the two locations that have since closed. I knew it had to be more than six…exciting that Brenda’s French Soul Food is also one of these locations, that, again, I already wrote about. Seems like I’ve made some good progress here.

     I could smell this place before I laid eyes on it. I’m serious! Sickly sweetness leading me to their door.

     Here’s a place you don’t want to go when you’re fasting. When I told the girl behind the counter that I couldn’t sample anything after grilling her with descriptions of half the flavors, she gave me a confused “ohhhkay…” response. SMH – don’t worry about it…

      You step into Z Cioccolato and become overwhelmed with the color and abundance of salt water taffy, and much more candy. But they don’t exactly stop at the candy. Z Cioccolato doubles as a toy store, with obscurely large googly eyes and classic tin lunch boxes.

     Barrels of salt water taffy take up the whole second half of the store. I don’t know many people who are into this stuff, but if you are, this is the place to find your strange and unique varieties.

     Did I mention Ghirardelli is from San Francisco?

     These guys have some odd flavors going for them, but I guess that’s how they made it to Unique Sweets. I kept it simple with White Tiger.

     White chocolate with a strip of milk chocolate in the middle, and sea salt caramel drizzled over the top.
     Yes, I did say simple. I didn’t say reasonable.

The trip reminded me where the limit of my sweet tooth will take me (I know I know, I do have limits, be they far). Glad I made it, though.

As Seen on "Unique Sweets": Craftsman and Wolves

See Dandelion Chocolates back there? Yeah, they were on the same episode.

     Unique Sweets is truthfully my favorite TV show, period. It’s on the Cooking Channel, the hipster and unconventional teenager of the Food Network, and it’s full of national gems. A spin-off of the original “Unique Eats”, this show exhibits different cafés, bakeries and restaurants in the country with crazy cool desserts and sweet treats. What’s better than offbeat confectioneries? The only thing I can think of is being in a city with so many! I’ve counted six locations in San Francisco that “Unique Sweets” has been to, talked about and aired on their show. Dynamo Donuts, which I wrote about before, happens to be one of these places. Another of these places is Craftsman and Wolves, in the Mission District. They’re known for “The Rebel Within”, which is a soft-boiled egg inside of an asiago sausage muffin. But once you walk up to their counter, you’ll see why else they’re famous and unique.

Caramelized hazelnut financier (French cake). $3.
Cashew curry and Valrhona (also French) chocolate chip cookies. $3
Chocolate croissant stack. $3.50

     Everything they make is beautiful. Look at that chocolate stack. Would I buy it for $3.50? Maybe not. I had a grand old time in there fangirling behind my camera, though.

The Rebel Within. $7

     Look at that muffin. This I might shell out 7 bucks for if just for the experience (if not for the sausage part).  Inside your asiago muffin, you get a soft-boiled egg. Whoa. What an adventure to bite into.

Savory tart: Charred eggplant purée, quinoa, smocked almonds and raisins (sic?). $5.50.
They omitted the “fromage blanc” on the little card there, but seen on their online menu.
Also, if you know that smocked is a real term, please fill me in.

     Moving left towards the cash register, we see potential lunch contenders. A garden of choices. A display of attention to detail.

Hard hitters corner. Proceed with caution.

Haute Dog: Beef frank, mustard seed croissant, salt & vinegar beet chips. $6.50.
Now they’re just getting ridiculous. Or no? Maybe it’s incredible.

“Sandwich”: Shitake, bok choy, kimchi savory cake, peanuts (sic). $8.
I’m not even sure what some of that means. Was the kimchi baked into that toast?

     There’s where the “crazy cool” comes in, sweet or not. These could just as well be life-like ceramic sculptures of very talented artists, but this is really what these lunch menu items look like. I don’t know that I would ever go for the toast set up, but I would consider the haute dog.

Coupe: Blueberry, Earl Grey. $4.50
Tart: Sweet corn, blonde chocolate, coconut, caramel. $6.50

     I would buy this spherical tart just out of curiosity on how to eat it. Seriously, how do you eat that? Is it soft and moussey? Hard and fudgy? But you have to applaud how they put these things together to make them look like bird nests. And that petal of whatever it may be.

(Mini) Black Frosting: Blackberry, vanilla, semolina, lavender. $8, $27.

(Mini) Cube Cake: Strawberry, honey, yogurt. $8, $30.

     Their cakes are also other-worldly. They change varieties every so often as well.

     I went for a morning bun, because it was “only” $4. It was nothing particularly special, but it had a nice flavor of vanilla like I was eating ice cream. Morning buns seem to be more of a west coast thing, and definitely a San Francisco thing. No crazy citrus flavors like most morning buns have, though. The center was soft and chewy and the outside was crunchy from the sugar and maybe salt coating. I don’t think you can really go wrong at Craftsman and Wolves: anything you get will be really good, or at least an experience.
     If you ever get the chance, do make it to Craftsman and Wolves. They made it to Unique Sweets for a reason. Apart from the occasional typo, they know what they’re doing. Check out their website, or better yet, their Instagram for more ridiculousness. Whether you get a Rebel Within or a bird’s nest, CAW will have something to spark your curiosity.

Editor’s note: I have since consumed six dollars worth of the Valrhona chocolate chip cookies for free (serious perks of interning for one of the best food photographers in the city). Surprisingly, I found the Valrhona chocolate to be too dark…I guess my palate hasn’t grown up as much as I thought.  Which would explain the reactions of all the adults around who fell in love with the cookies. Don’t get me wrong – apart from the chocolate, I did really enjoy the cookie. It was chewy and thick. But seriously, I could have eaten one for breakfast – so dense, so big!

On the Hunt: Brenda’s French Soul Food Beignets

     Ramadan has officially commenced around the world, so it’s a good thing I ran around the SF food scene early in the game. But don’t think a month of daylight fasting will deter me from the restaurant tables; I’m already making plans to visit Candybar Dessert Lounge  *rubs hands*.

     I guess I like doughnuts; enough to find the best of the best in town according to Google. That’s probably one of a handful of things I got from my Uncle Banji – shout out for sacrificing the trans-fat-full Krispy Kremes. Brenda’s French Soul Food is a cute restaurant in the occasionally dodgy Tenderloin neighborhood, where Chef Brenda Buenviaje brought her New Orleans culture and cooking to share with San Francisco. We came for the beignets, but left with the intention of trying the shrimp and goat-cheese omelet or cornmeal-fried oyster po’boy. I’m a sucker for seafood and deep frying, so I think I could do some real damage here.

     This place gets packed. Lines out the door, and extra cozy dining rooms. This is a good sign, right? So is this one: “house rules”. They need a whole frame – I’m in. And luckily, literally. The 2pm Friday crowd was minimal, and my roommie Megan and I were seated within 5 minutes of entering.

     Check out the silverware cans and condiment buckets. True southern feel? I would think so, but I’ve yet to make it to Louisiana. What I do know is that some of these cans came from the famous Café du Monde in New Orleans. Authentic!

     Casual yet classy. Check out the mirrors on that wall. Check out the wall.

     So beignets. Megan and I were kinda in over our heads here…after some consideration, we went for a plate of traditional beignets, and a plate of Ghirardelli-stuffed beignets to split. Three beignets of each, three beignets each to consume. Totally doable, right? Maybe, but the real question is always “should it be”, isn’t it? We could barely move after enjoying the dense fried dough mounds and dark chocolate chip pockets, doused in powdered sugar.

     What exactly is a beignet, though? You could call it the French version of a doughnut, but for us, it’s closer to a “fritter”. I call it a ball or square of fried dough, that is always be covered in powdered sugar in this country. What may make it particular is the dough itself. The “choux” pastry is light and has butter, egg, and flour. Without yeast, these treats expand when steam is created from all the moisture and heat. In this traditional beignet, you can see the pocket of air. But don’t be deceived: these beignets pack a heavy punch. After one, you’re trying to calculate how you will finish the other two waiting on your plate.

     So much beignet…so little room. Here we have a lovely chocolate-stuffed beignet, where the middle is made up of Ghirardelli chocolate chips. Did I mention Ghirardelli originated in San Francisco? And this thing was chock-FULL. We instantly reevaluated our choice to order two plates among consuming our first one of these. I may have preferred shooting it than eating it – you really need to enlarge these images to get the full experience. The chocolate chips hadn’t even melted fully…there IS such a thing as too much chocolate, and I think we were in sight of a limit at Brenda’s. In any case, it was an excellent experience and I have no regrets. Only next time, I’ll be trying at least one of their different varieties: Granny Smith Apple (with honey butter!!) and Crawfish. A la prochaine, Brenda!

Food Trucks For Days

   As literally as that modern idiom could be used. And as incomplete as that last sentence was. San Francisco is one of the best cities to be in as a foodie. It’s full of French boulangeries and pâtisseries, so in that sense it’s also the best place to transition oneself to a return to American life & cuisine from France. Vive la baguette. And vive le food truck, because there are easily 50 food trucks in San Francisco, and 50 more in the surrounding Bay Area. There are so many ways to get your food truck fix here, but one I learned about my first day here is called Off the Grid. Seriously check it out because it is super cool. They’ve created more than 30 locations in the Bay Area where 5-40 food trucks/tents will set up shop for either lunch or dinner and you can have your choice of yummy nummies. Food trucks/carts from crêpers to crème brûléers to gyrators to SPECULOOS COTTON CANDYMEN all get together to serve us, with the frequent local band playing live music on the side. Off the Grid gets it. The coolest party to date. So without further ado, let me introduce you to some noms, and how also, not all options are good options here in food-truck land.

 Here’s the crowd for the Sunday afternoon “Picnic at the Presidio”. Blankets, folding chairs and even those shade-maker tents. It was surprisingly steamy that day.
Here is “Fins on the Hoof”, the food truck I selected for my lunch of poutine. I was first introduced to poutine in its birthplace of Québec, right in Québec city during a high school trip. Our tour guide accurately described it to us as “French fries covered with gravy and topped with squeaky cheese”. Probably like you, I thought this sounded absolutely nasty. But I also thought I would never know for sure, so I decided to try the big signature dish of Québec. I’m glad I did because it’s awesome!! Simple and squeaky. So when I saw the traditional québecois poutine at this truck I was sold.
I will definitely be coming back for the lamb burger and salmon/egg salad sandwich though!
This truck had a long line of tickets and a longer line of people – both waiting to order and waiting for their food.
So this poutine…I’m not sure if it’s my developed palate or the particular overload of salt, but I did not love the poutine like I thought I would, and I was very sad. It doesn’t look like the gravy is plentiful, but that’s because it’s busy pooling up (down?) at the bottom of the aluminum container. Not all the fries were hot, and the cheese wasn’t all that squeaky. BTW the squeaky cheese refers to cheese curds! With all that plus the superbly over-salted gravy, I was not impressed by the poutine 😦 Goodbye $9. Did I mention food trucks are expensive?
SO to make up for my disappointing poutine experience, I got myself some more francophoney food at the Crème Brûlée Cart. They do in fact have a store which I stumbled across in the Mission District recently – but I think they make most of their money from their OtG gigs and their middle-of-the-street tents in the Mission and elsewhere.
Check out these flavors. The Crème Brûlée Cart goes all out with the toppings: cookie crumble, caramel, S’MORES. I went all out too, with “The Godfather”: chocolate crème brûlée, “midnight cookie crumble” on top, all covered in caramel sauce. Danggg!

It may have been better with hot fudge sauce, or a component of warmth. It was all kinda gooey and cold, but that’s to be expected.
I have a lot of work to do if I want to get around this food truck scene. Updates to come.

On the Hunt: Dynamo Doughnuts

     One morning I was inspired to google “best doughnuts in San Francisco”, and what it came up with was less than disappointing. Among the 2-3 different sites and opinions I received, Dynamo Donuts was a unanimous choice among doughnut eaters. They’re known for their wacky flavors and ingredient combinations. And of course, their prices are just as hipster as their options (apparently hipsters have money now? Completely different subject). Normally these rings go for $2 each or more, but past a certain time in the day, they present their “twofer” deal where they’ll give you two, so they can get rid of as many fresh doughnuts as possible. So you can go in the morning, where they’ll have probably around 10 flavors for $2+ each, or you can go in the afternoon, when they’ll have 4 flavors for half the price. I say it’s a win-win.

     That’s what was left around maybe 3pm? Minus one, because I took the last of it.

     I picked lemon sichuan because I love all things lemony, and the cashier suggested something like “hibiscus heart beet”. I’d hoped he knew what he was talking about.

     I guess he did know. I was pleasantly surprised by the pink cake of the doughnut that could only have come from the ingredients. It was a nice combination of chocolate and natural sweeteners – again, from the ingredients, and not too much sugar. It was nice and simple. Particularly good for those who prefer their desserts less sweet.

     Then came my lemon. I’ve yet to ever go wrong with lemon. My favorite part about this doughnut was how it was “filled”. Instead of taking a whole doughnut and piping it, at Dynamo they form doughnuts halves and then place ample filling in between before frying away. GENIUS. Look at that space. No crowding of room, no cream oozing out of your bite and onto your shirt before you can get to it. The flavor was just as good: I guess the powder was supposed to be spicy, like a sort of pepper. So, definitely a healthier route than powdered sugar. But it was a very mild sourness, nothing too extreme. On the inside was the perfect lemon curd: not too sweet, and not overpowered by sour. Brought me back to my British jam days…mm lemon curd!

     Dynamo itself is a cool place. I’m finding that so many places in San Francisco where baking goes down, the kitchen is in plain view for all to see. Of course, not much happens in the afternoon…at all. But here’s where the magic happens. On the other side of the counter are chairs and places to sit and enjoy your high end coffee and doughnuts. In the back there’s a nice outdoor patio area where I hid.

     And here is my super shady picture of the store front. I passed by Dynamo almost twice when I went looking for it. The front is the counter that your walk up to, modest and quiet. But I’m sure in the morning there’s a line down the block! I wanted to document this, so I crossed the street with my big camera around my neck and hid behind this tree so as not to be seen by the guy working there taking a picture of this place without previously mentioning it. In hindsight, I clearly should have said something, and he definitely saw me. Then there was this guy parking his car. So I thought I’d leave this photo here to tell more of a story than to illustrate the unique store front of Dynamo…
     There you have it! Hipster doughnuts in the hipster part of town: Dynamo Donut + Coffee in Mission. If you’re in the area, definitely check them out!

Real Tales of San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge. I guess it’s officially orange?!

     If my others forms of social media have yet to update thee, I have made it across the country to the Golden State for the first time since I was seven years old for a martial arts convention. Yay! California is big, and San Francisco is crazy: Crazy landscape, crazy weather, crazy people and crazy food. For the next ten weeks, I will be eating my way around as much of the city as I can while photo assisting, food styling, baristaing and fasting during Ramadan (hmm…we’ll get to that later).
     So I’m gonna pull a Joy the Baker on this one – sometimes food bloggers think their readers are interested in their lives outside of food. So here’s a couple of picture of non-food to go along with this life update. Enjoy these while I get my important/food life together with finishing my French blog and putting together some first SF posts for y’all.

Palm trees? Must be Cali.
Colorful houses and electric bus wires. All the buses in San Francisco are zero emission.
ZEERO.
Pretty sure that’s Alcatraz…
So many Prii (note the Transamerica pyramid in the distance)