Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A San Franciscan Weekend

The San Francisco bay area is truly one of my favorite places ever. Maybe it's just the "granola" side of me talking but there's a free, green spirit about the area that I adore, what with the constant presence of activism in the street corner or the bi-weekly farmer's market in almost every county. I jumped with joy when I saw that there are recycling and composting bins to be found throughout the city. I also hear that retailers are mandated to use recycleable or compostable shopping bags by law! If San Francisco can do it, why can't the rest of the country?

Anyway, the main reason for my SF trip is to attend a scientific meeting that's held over the weekend. I had to present a poster there and got the chance to attend some interesting talks. Initially I wasn't looking forward to the poster session because I thought that my work is kind of lame. However, many people stopped by my poster and asked many questions. It has truly revived the scientist in me. Wow! Someone's actually interested in what I'm doing, haha! :)

I attended most of the lectures and professional events that I thought were directly related to my work and this still left me with plenty of time to sightsee and basically do whatever I wanted to. On my first night, I met up with two of my cousins who lives in San Jose. Actually, they met up with me. They were so sweet that they picked me up from the airport! Here they are, regaled in plastic bibs!

Actually, the reason they were wearing bibs (I had one on too!) was that we were about to enjoy a crab dinner and eating crabs with your bare hands sure can get messy. Hendra brought us to Thanh Long in San Francisco for its crazy good Vietnamese seafood fare. We went there on a Friday night and it was super packed. Once I smelled the strong, distinctive scent of garlic, I knew that we were at a good place. Fortunately, we were seated within 10 minutes and my cousin Hendra shortened our waiting time by immediately ordering the specialties without even opening the menu. We had a giant Dungeness crab each and tiger prawns served over a bed of garlic noodles. The roasted crab was deliciously moist and super meaty. The sauce (made with garlic and "secret" spices, whatever they may be) was perfect for dunking the chunks of soft crab meat into. The butterflied tiger prawns were also tasty, though a teeny tad overcooked. My favorite just had to be the garlic noodles: a bit on the soft side of al dente and 100% garlicky!

Believe it or not, after that meal fit for giants, we shared two desserts: the molten chocolate cake and fried banana, both a la mode.The chocolate cake was just allright to me but the fried banana brings back memories of my childhood for me. One of my father's favorite snacks is fried banana, a staple of Indonesian cuisine. Growing up, he used to bring me along to a fried banana stand in the heart of the Jakarta Chinatown when he sneaked out of the house for a snack :)

Besides enjoying the seafood in SF, I also headed towards a Californian institution: In'n'Out. I've heard many friends rave about this Cali joint and I've always wanted to try it. The previous times I was in California, I wasn't able to make my pilgrimage for one reason or another. This time, I was determined to not miss it! After I presented my poster at the meeting, I decided to go for a run around SF. Long story short, I ran from my hotel (near the Civic Center) to the Golden Gate Bridge, and then to Fisherman's Wharf, before heading back to the hotel. If it sounds like a long run to you, it's probably because it WAS a looong run. I had planned it out so that I would have my post-run meal at an In'n'Out at Fisherman's Wharf. After a blistering run throughout the 45-degree sloped of Sn Francisco, this was a sweet sight for sore eyes (and legs!).

When I went into the restaurant, there was already a long line ahead of me. This particular In-n-Out was packed with tourists due to the location, but there were a number of locals too. As they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do; so I ordered a double double meal. I just can't get over how funny the name is! :) So, the double double meal consists of a double double burger (double the patty and cheeese), fries and medium drink. The unlimited drink part was pretty awesome because I was sooo dehydrated after my run and I must say that I had never tasted a more refreshing or delicious Diet Coke in my life!

Mr oder took a little less than 10 minutes to complete, which makes me believe that they actually cook the food only after they received the order. Although the fries were unimpressive and were on the soggy side (McD fries are better), the burger itself was yummy. I could actually taste the meat! Unlike other fast food joints that serve burgers that are unbelieveably tasteless, I like the beefiness (yes, the BEEFiness) of an In-n-Out burger. As if this is not Cali enough, they wrap their burgers in paper instead of plastic, hand-cut their fries and lettuce, and only use vegetable oil. Isn't it awesome?

The rest of the time in SF, I spent munching and snacking instead of having big sit-down meals. I just wanted a taste of as many things as possible! Of course a trip to SF is never complete without a visit to the largest Chinatown in the US. I searched high and low for this one bakery my cousin brought me to previously, where I enjoyed the most luscious egg tart ever. After an hour or so looking lost and having lost hope, I found it: the AA Bakery & Cafe!

As with most Chinatown bakeries and cafes, this one was filled with older Chinese folks, enjoying their morning egg tart or other yummy pastries over a piping hot cup of milk tea (or nai cha). As for me, I made a beeline to purchase my favorite Chinese pastries: egg tart, steamed "paper" cake and a custard bun topped with a thin almond cookie.

Unlike the Chicago C-town bakeries, in SF, the egg tart shell is made with puff pastry, giving it a rich flavor, flaky texture and a delicate crispness that is distinct from the graham cracker-style crust used in other cities' C-town bakeries. The actually egg custard part is also much milkier and softer, which makes SF egg tarts my favorite ever!

The custard-filled bun topped with almond cookie (I don't know its official name) was also a yummy treat. I've never seen them in the Chicago C-town and I first had this with my cousin in SF a few years back. This bun combines a soft bready texture with the cool creamy filling and a lightly crunchy cookie top. Man, Asian cuisine is chock full of foods and dishes that combine different textures and flavors; and this bun is (in my humble opinion), the most delicious example of that.

The steamed "paper" bun (my absolute favorite Chinese pastry ever!) was not as good as the ones in Chicago (Chi-town pride!). It had a layer of crust (not hard, not soft) on top that the cakes in Chicago don't have. However, the flavor was spot-on and was perfect with a cup of strong latte.

And guess what?!?!? I was in Cali during the cherry season! When I saw a fresh shipment of cherries in C-town, I couldn't resist! Don't worry, I didn't buy all these (though I wish I did)!

On the last day of my trip, I was lucky enough to catch a farmer's market outside the Ferry Terminal building. I mean, how much more Californian can it be than a farmer's market? There were plenty of fresh fruit (cherries, peaches and berries were in season) and to my delight, there was no shortage of samples!

I was particularly struck by the impressive size of some figs and decided to try one. The fig was so big it covered the palm of my hand! Not only was it gigantic, it was actually quite delicious. It wasn't as juicy as some figs I had, but it was very seedy and not too terribly sweet. I enjoyed the subtle flavors and devoured it, skin and all.

As if all this fresh fruits and veggies wasn't enough, there were more gourmet stores in the Ferry Terminal building itself. The one that caught my eye first was Acme Bread Company. I've heard of the legendary Berkeley-based bakery and lucky me! They had a branch in SF! I mean, seriously, this place is so good that there were a couple of folks who made their pilgrimage here either first thing from the airport, or on their way to the airport. What better endorsement is there?

Although I was tempted by the baguette, I decided to stick with a classic: the butter croissant, which went perfectly with a piping hot cup of latte. The croissant was as croissants should be: flaky layers of buttery richness. I enjoyed it immensely, but it would've been infinitely better had it been warm, if only slightly (I know, I know, I'm so demanding!).

There was another bakery (or as they advertise, patissier) in the Ferry Terminal Building named Miette. Their delicate decor and beautiful pastries drew me to this store. In particular, I was enchanted by their macaroon offering.

Suddenly hankering for them, I bought one of each flavor: pistachio, rose, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Tha packaging was totally adorable, with the little cookies swaddled in pretty pink tissue paper within a mini Chinese take-out box with a handle.

Although I enjoyed the flavors of the macaroons, I was a tad disappointed by the texture. Unlike the crisp yet chewy macaroons I had in Paris, these Miette macaroons were just soft. It might've had something to do with having them all stacked up in the large cookie jars, instead of having them lined up in a single layer to be kept as dry as possible. Still, I liked the flavors of the macs, particularly the rose macaroon.

I'm really very happy with the trip to SF. There are still some places I would love to visit or eat at in the Bay Area. Fortunately, I won't have to wait long for that chance because I'm returning there in July for a friend's last hurrah of sorts :) Ciao!

Thanh Long
4101 Judah Street
on the corner of 46th Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94122

In-n-Out Burger
333 Jefferson St
San Francisco, CA 94133

AA Bakery & Cafe
1068 Stockton St
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 981-0123

Acme Bread Company
One Ferry Building
Marketplace Shop #15
San Francisco, California 94111

One Ferry Building
Marketplace Shop #10
San Francisco, CA 94111

1 comment:

glamah16 said...

Your just hitting all the gastronomic capitals. I know what you mean about the recycing bins.Certain Someone always gets pissed about how we deal with trash here. In Sweden its so efficent and broken down by trash type.That seafood dinner sounds fab. I love crabs. I just was eyeinf some in Richwell Market in Chinatown today.

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