19 February 2008

Tour de Cafe - SF Espressos, food/restaurants, wine bars

I'm in San Francisco this week to assist with the RailsQuickStart seminar on Wed and Thurs. But, in the mean time, I'm enjoying the food and drink scene. Monday I spent with my good friend Matt, who recently moved from SF to Silverton, CO, but was back in town for a while selling some houses. Matt used to go out essentially every night, and really knows the scene. He picked me up at the airport at 9:30a, and we began our tour.

First stop, and top priority, was the new Blue Bottle cafe in the Mint district. Luckily the line was minimal, an we ordered our cappuccinos and poached eggs & toast breakfast. The cap was awesome of course, and the food was quite good too. Blue Bottle is just really good with capuccino - superb micro-foam and great afteraste. It was also cool to see their new siphon bar in action. It's a trippy, chem-lab looking setup. I don't know if I'll have a chance to try it on the trip, but will do so if I'm in the cafe again this trip. We almost ordered another drink, but decided the line was a bit long by now, and so headed over to Ritual Roasters.

Arriving at Ritual, we were greeted with a huge line out the door. But, it moved fairly quick, and we each ordered a doppio. However, we were extremely disappointed (which is saying it nicely)... the espresso was crap. Straight up, they should have been embarrassed to serve us those totally sour shots of under-extracted, under-temperature espresso! This was surprising to both of us, although it sounds like Matt has found them declining for a while (maybe they need to go back to using Stumptown - go Oregon! ;-) Yuck, we left them on the bar and skedaddled.

As the lunch hour arrived, we both didn't want to pass up the opportunity to hit the taco truck(s) over by Best Buy. Good authentic, simple tacos. I went with carnitas, Matt had carne asada and ate all his jalapenos. Back to his friend Jeff's house to meet Jeff, do a quick email session, and check the status of the day's Tour of California stage. Now it was time for me to check in to my hotel and then head out to dinner with some of Matt's friends.

We hit Chow in the Castro. I'd say this part of the day was just average. Food was decent, but nothing special, average atmosphere, etc. We were joining his friend's who have small kids (2 and 4), so I get that aspect completely (Chow was kid friendly), but since I'm traveling and in SF, I'm of course wanting to go to the really great places, or different or unusual or whatever. From there we split from his friends, picked Jeff up, and headed out to a wine bar.

Hotel Biron is a small wine bar, tucked away on an alley, sporting just a small "B" sign. Definitely the kind of place I was looking for - somewhere you wouldn't just stumble across, small, great wine, and oh-my-gosh, you could actually hear people talk in there! What a concept! We even sat on a comfy leather couch. The wine was also great. Had a nice bottle of malbec, and some glasses of Chilean (which I skipped, as I'm kind of a lightweight). Oddly enough, earlier in the day we'd seen the owner, Chris, walking across the street carrying a bicycle wheel. He looked like a bike messenger or something - no clue he'd have been a wine bar owner, but that's SF for you (Matt knows him, thus the reason we could spot this).

At this point we thought we were going to call it a night, but it was still fairly early, so as we were in the area, and a lot of other things were closed, we went to A 16. Matt claims A 16 is the second best Italian restaurant in SF. Continuing the small world aspect, as we saddled up to the bar, the bartender turns around and Jeff realizes he knows him. Of course this made for an even better night. Tim is a sommelier, travels the world, and was a fun guy to talk to. He poured us some great wines to go along with the pizza and prosciutto plate we snuck in as a last minute order before the kitchen closed.

After a while we decided an espresso might be in order, and knew it might be ok, as they used Blue Bottle beans :) Of course we needed to have some dessert to go along with that. We ordered the two most interesting looking desserts, which were the chocolate tart with olive oil and sea salt, and the pecorino gelato with buckwheat brownie. I was unsure how well the pecorino gelato would combine, but damn if that dessert wasn't awesome! The buckwheat brownie was superb, and combined with the gelato was just a fantastic dessert. The pecorino was strong, and I think Matt and Jeff were less enthusiastic about it, but if I went back to A 16, I doubt I'd leave without ordering that dessert again! Also, the desserts came paired with dessert wines which were outstanding. Everything there was great, including all the excellent info and wine Tim provided. I can't help but agree that A 16 was a great stop, and definitely an ideal ending to our evening.

Tuesday will be more relaxed as I'll be doing some work, but I'm sure will be heading for Blue Bottle and some other cafes again. Another report to follow...


Benji Orozco said...
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