I travel a fair amount and, no matter where I’m headed, I try to always arrive with a list of recommended places to eat. While other more sensible travelers may consult weather reports in order to determine the right jacket and shoes to pack, I spend my time emailing friends and reading blogs to find out where I should eat. The longer and more varied my list, the more eagerly I anticipate the trip. For instance, on my recent visit to San Francisco, I had close to 20 spots on my radar that could satisfy every thing from a craving for a really good cup of coffee to a South Indian Sunday brunch.
Now the challenge with this type of planning is that there are only so many hours in a day and only so many meals one can (or should) try to squeeze into those hours. I also try to keep in mind the appetites and interests of my traveling companions. I’ve learned the hard way that not everyone wants to spend the weekend being dragged from bakery to coffee shop to deli to restaurant and market and so on. When I’m traveling with others, I try to be sensitive and temper my appetite for everything. On this last trip to San Francisco, however, it seemed we had serendipity on our side. Aside from the big meal I had to cook on Saturday (see below), our plans for the long weekend were loose. We wanted to walk, visit a few art galleries, and explore as many neighborhoods as we could. Our little group (there were 3 of us) had decided that we wanted to eat, but we weren’t going to make it the centerpiece of our weekend. What my fellow travelers didn’t know was that along with my map of the city, I also had a number of spots scoped out where we MIGHT just stop at if we got hungry along the way, which of course we did.
We made our first food stop on our way from Pacific Heights to Russian Hill where lo-and-behold we found ourselves standing at the corner of Polk and Broadway in front of Nick’s Crispy Tacos. Now, Nick’s is not a place you’re likely to stop in unless someone tipped you off. It looks more like a nightclub/dive bar (it was daylight, so I wasn’t quite sure which) than a lunch spot, but inside, beyond the disco balls and cushy booths, you’ll find a superb taco bar. We ordered pescado, carne asado and carnitas tacos. All were excellent, fresh, and inexpensive. Not only were we fortified, but I think I earned a little trust from my companions. Maybe my “food as destination” planning thing might work out.
From there we continued toward the Marina and turned up Chestnut Street and just about the moment when we were needing a little something sweet to get us through the afternoon, we found ourselves admiring the windows at the new location of Miette, a magical little pastry shop whose original location remains in the Ferry Building.
Besides all the irresistible retro-candies (Violet Squares or Slo-Pokes Suckers, anyone?), Miette offers a exceptionally charming, picture-perfect and delicious line up of pastries, cakes and, our favorite, cupcakes. We sample several treats, but my favorite had to be the gingerbread cupcakes – just the right 2-to 3-bite size with just enough frosting to get a little on the tip of your nose but not enough to overwhelm the delicate cake.
The final entry on our serendipitous weekend tour came Sunday morning when, after an 8-mile walk from Pacific Heights, through parts of the Presidio, out to Land’s End, and back through outer Richmond, I realized we were right around the corner from Pizzetta 211. So I steered the group onto 23rd Street, led them the few blocks to number 211 (between Clement and California) to find a vest-pocket size storefront of a pizza place that I had heard only wonderful things about. What makes Pizzetta 211 exceptional – besides the amazing thin-crust medium-size pizzas – is the size and simplicity of it. There are only 4 tables and pizzas are made to order, so the wait can be quite l-o-n-g. But luck seemed to be on our side – within the time it took us to decide which pizzas to order (in addition to the short menu, the are daily specials), we were seated snugly in the window table, happily quaffing cold beer, and only just then realizing how incredibly hungry we were. We started by sharing an order of the daily appetizer that we had just seen the cook pull out of the oven – a deep, dense chard torta accompanied by a couple slices of ricotta salata.
From there we shared 2 pizzas. The first a light, springtime combination of asparagus, meyer lemon and fresh cheese. The second, and decidedly our favorite, Rosies’ Farm Egg, Fingerling Potatoes, Argula, Redwood Hill Goat Cheese and Prosciutto. Imagine the a classic fried egg breakfast deconstructed and served over a thin, lightly chewy, crisped edged pizza. The eggs (there are 2, sunny-side up) are perfectly cooked so the white is set but the yellow runs perfectly over the crust and you get bites of farm-fresh egg with each bite of potatoes, prosciutto and arugula. Mmmmm. I really DO love to travel…and eat.