Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Adventures in San Fran: Cafes, Bakeries and Ice Cream

While running from the Full House house to the Mrs. Doubtfire house and delivering sick hummingbirds (OK... hummingbird) to the animal hospital, we needed caffeine and a lot of fast snacks. Luckily there are tons of great spots all over the city, and Rob mapped a few of them out so we could visit quickly as we shuttled along.I had the first iced coffee of 2010 at Cafe Murano, a cute neighborhood wifi spot on Steiner Street. Tasted like good high-quality coffee, but with too much ice it was a little watered down too fast. It was definitely refreshing after a hike up the hill to Alta Plaza, a quiet little park with a great view of the city.

Cafe Murano
1777 Steiner Street
(between Post St & Sutter St)
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 771-0888

That afternoon we were stuck in touristy Fisherman's Wharf, with no viable food options beyond a Bubba Gump Shrimp. I did a quick search on Yelp and found a highly rated Argentinean truck called Tanguito with quiet off-strip outdoor seating. Score! We shared a fresh, flaky ham and cheese empanada, then we each had two huge sandwiches on French bread. My steak sandwich had peppers, onions, mushrooms and a fantastic homemade chimichurri sauce; Rob had a sausage sandwich with similar toppings. We were only looking for a late afternoon snack, but it was so much food we were good for the rest of the day... until we made our way to Ghirardelli Square.

I know it sounds gimmicky and touristy but I really think this was the best hot fudge sundae I've ever had. The homemade chocolate chip ice cream was thick, creamy, actual good vanilla with lots of chips, topped with melted dark Ghirardelli chocolate, heavy whipped cream and walnuts. I could have sat by the fountain people watching with this sundae all night.

Rob had the sea salt caramel hot chocolate. I didn't find it all that salty or caramelly but then again I was pretty engrossed in the sundae.

Ghirardelli Square
900 N Point St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 775-5500

The next day, after an afternoon at the Botanical Gardens, we headed over to Arizmendi Bakery for a coffee and snack. Every day they have a special pizza (this particular day it was artichokes, tomatoes, basil and rosemary oil) that people seem to go crazy for; they actually ran out while we were visiting and a lot of disappointed customers ensued. They also specialize in pastries and breads, all of which looked fresh and enticing. We finally decided on a cheddar scone. Wow. Hard, crunchy sections of cheddar melted along the sides, contrasted well with the softer insides, ended with a nice spice from red pepper. I wish we had time to try more here... but we had places to go.

Arizmendi Bakery
1331 9th Ave
(between Irving St & Judah St)
San Francisco, CA
(415) 566-3117

One day we got up ridiculously early to rent a car and head up to Oakland and eventually Napa. A block down the street from our hotel was a little cafe called Em's Place with very decent coffee and fairly awesome breakfast sandwiches. I had an egg and cheese on a cheese bagel, it was too cheesy to even take a picture. Rob's ham, bacon and egg sandwich held up much better under the poppyseed bagel and made a great Bay Bridge car breakfast.

Em's Place

154 McAllister St
(at Hyde St)

San Francisco
, CA 94102
(415) 552-8379

While driving through Napa we looped around through Yountville so I could see the French Laundry in the flesh (er.. stone?). Just down the street is Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery, which also exists in New York at Columbus Circle. They have a few good sandwiches here, like the turkey with cranberry. They don't stuff the sandwiches all that much -- it was only about a single slice of turkey -- but the bread is so freshly baked that it doesn't really matter that it makes up 85% of the whole sandwich. They'll even toast it for you too if you aren't in a rush.

The most impressive part of this bakery though, is the macarons. I'm embarrassed to say that I was a macaron virgin before Yountville, and this place has turned me into a full-fledged believer. Or have I just been ruined for macarons? Damn you Thomas Keller.

I guess I can't compare them to other macarons, but I think they were everything they were supposed to be -- crusty on the outside, chewy beneath the crust, creamy and flavorful on the inside. The sweet buttercream gave me tiny sugar rush headaches, but they were worth it.

We tried just about every kind there was. We came back after visiting a few wineries to bring more home. We ate them one at a time the next day at different benches in the Marin Headlands. We tried to savor them as much as possible.

I think my favorite one was the seasonal -- orange cream. Then the espresso and hazelnut. The vanilla, chocolate and caramel weren't so shabby, either.

I'll definitely be back here next time I go to Napa. Maybe then I'll give the regular Bouchon a try -- or (do I dare to dream?) the French Laundry!

Bouchon Bakery
6528 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2253

French Laundry
6640 Washington Street

Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2380

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