I know that many phone calls lately have gone unreturned, blog posts have gone unwritten, and photos have gone un-uploaded. The truth is that I've been busy. Eating.
About week ago, it was cold and rainy here in San Francisco. My throat was hurting, and I was tired from a weekend of parties. I sat across from a friend at Thai House Express. M had suggested the location for a bowl of chicken noodle soup.
I took a bite.
"This is the best thing I've eaten in a week," I said.
It was sublime. After a second bite, it had become my favorite chicken soup in San Francisco. The broth was clean and flavorful, the wide rice noodles and chicken transcendent with tiny crispy bits of God-knows-what that added an extra punch of flavor that I loved.
"What about Shin Toe Bul Yi?" he asked.
"Oh yah, and then there was that good dish at King of Thai Noodles, and -- oh yah! Pizzetta 211!"
When you've found your favorite chicken noodle soup in San Francisco and it is probably the third or fourth best thing you've eaten in 10 days, you know it's been a great few days.
M lived in San Francisco for years and was back visiting. He had a restaurant list, scribbled on the back of an envelope, in his back pocket the whole time he was here. I was game to join him at quite a few (but not nearly all), and added a couple suggestions of my own to create a memorable trip of food in my own city.
Shin Toe Bul Yi. This Korean restaurant in the Sunset is known by many to have the best fried chicken in San Francisco. I love it, find the beef kalbi and panchan to be ok, and think that they have the best menu translations in all of San Francisco. Can't find the fried chicken? Look for "Chicken Small Pieces. Little spicy. (Deep fried)." Tip: the fried chicken is only available at dinner time.
Hing Lung. I've only ever had Hing Lung duck jook to go, but it's like magic to eat it late at night with chili paste stirred in. It's on Broadway in Chinatown and I've heard that the only thing to eat here is the jook and the donuts.
SPQR. M knew I wanted to take him here, and at 8 pm on a Saturday night announced that we should go. "No way in hell," was my response. I knew how popular it had gotten, and put my foot down. He persisted and we ended up getting in 45 minutes later though the quoted time was 2.5 hours. I didn't pull any weight (not that I have any to pull), or ask for any special favors. It was just a fortuitous question that got us in. And I'll never tell how.
Pizzetta 211. If I ever leave San Francisco, Pizzetta is one of the restaurants that I miss the most. There is not much that compares to whiling away the afternoon in the corner seats of Pizzetta with perfectly executed pizzas, good company, and a quintessential San Francisco feel. We shared two pizzas and a salad -- the winner was a rich no-tomato pizza with chard and potatoes. Delicious.
NOPA. I won't go on record with the number of hours that Stephanie and I were bellied up to the bar table here, but it was a fun Sunday afternoon/evening. M. joined us a bit later in the evening (after we'd tasted most of their absinthe cocktails) and we had a good meal, highlighted by white beans in tomato sauce and a fantastic dessert.
Alembic. The Alembic remains my favorite hang-out place -- a perfect mix of star bartenders shaking drinks in sixteenth-note triplets and a kicked-back atmosphere.
King of Thai Noodles (Clement at 4th location). Pad Kee Mao, spicy with beef (stir fried dal rice noodles green long bean, bell pepper, thai chili and basil) is the best thing in the city to eat at 2 in the morning.
Incanto. This was my favorite meal at Incanto ever and went a long way in helping me understand why people love it so much. We sat at the bar, and had a quick bite of pastas before leaving for a busy Saturday night.
Tajine. Tajine wasn't on his list, but hit the spot one day as I picked it up to go. A highlight was the chicken with preserved lemons and olives.
Thai House Express (Larkin location). As stated above: Best. Chicken. Noodle. Soup in the City. We had other great things, but it was all eclipsed by the soup.
A16. You all know how much I love the new little sister to A16 (Yes, I've decided that SPQR is a woman -- sassy and cool and oh-so San Franciscan). So the truth is that A16's glory had dulled in my mind a tad in the past few months. I have so many memories of A16, though, and have had so many stellar meals that this apathy was not going to last long: My love for A16 is back in force. Arriving close to 10 on a Tuesday night, we were seated immediately. With four of us, we were able to order a good portion of the menu. I am pleased to say that the pizzas were spot on, the tuna conserva appetizer was remarkable, and that Liza Shaw must be performing miracles in the kitchen.
Yamo. This is a Burmese restaurant in the Mission -- a place that M has mentioned many times as something he craves. The take-out food that he brought me -- especially the curry chicken -- was good enough that I would go back.
Cafe Rouge. I have to admit to mixed feelings about Cafe Rouge. While I think that it's fine, I've never found it to be revelatory. However, it's difficult to knock a place with a $1 oyster happy hour with deliciously executed oysters. This restaurant wasn't on his list or mine -- was just a last minute decision as he headed out of town. It was a lovely meal, and a good way to end a grand run of restaurants.