I live in a city with amazing food (Toronto), but there’s something about San Francisco that just makes me want to eat all day long. I drove up here from Silicon Valley late yesterday afternoon and am staying at the Hilton Financial District, which is nestled between Chinatown and North Beach (the Italian area), just a few minutes walk from the Embarcadero at the ferry terminal. I immediately whipped out the hotel local guide, and saw that the ferry terminal has been converted into bunch of upscale market/food shops/cafes, and decided to check it out.
I didn’t arrive there until after 7pm so a lot of the shops were closed, but it was a nice place to walk around and take some photos. I tried for the fish tacos at Taylor’s, but they were out of fish for the day; I’ll have to try this another day, since I can’t seem to find any place in Toronto that makes fish tacos. I settled in for dinner at the white Italian marble bar at Ferry Plaza Seafood, sitting indoors facing the bay through the large windows rather than at a table outside, since it was starting to cool out there. This is a combo restaurant and fish market, with the long counter of fish for sale right behind me as I sat at the bar. They offer three types of chowder — New England clam, Manhattan clam, and fish — and I ordered a cup of the New England clam chowder that was served up with 2 minutes. The clams were a bit firm, but not yet chewy, and the taste was sublimely creamy, paired with a chunk of fresh sourdough bread. I ordered a glass of Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio (Italian) and waited (but not long) for the main course: a seared ahi salad. The salad was greens, grape tomatoes and roasted potatoes with three significant slabs of seared ahi laid over it: definitely more than I needed, although I did manage to put it all away. The fish had been prepared in advance so was completely cold — many seared ahi salads that I’ve had use freshly-seared fish so that it’s warm on the outside while cool on the inside — and had been rolled in white and black sesame seeds. Very tasty, although the salad dressing was a bit lackluster, and I’d be hard-pressed to even say what the dressing was. All in all, a satisfactory and filling dinner.
I wanted to hit the ferry terminal again during peak hours, so I headed down there this morning around 11 to check out the shops and have lunch. I thought that I’d be back to Taylor’s for those tacos, but decided instead on two fresh rolls from Acme Bread, a slice of pecorino from Cowgirl Creamery and a masala chai latte from Peet’s, eaten on a bench at the water’s edge. The rosemary roll, although fresh and tasty, had not a hint of rosemary in it; the olive roll, however, was nicely flecked with green olives. The pecorino, I confess, was Italian, not local, in spite of some of the nice locally-made cheeses in the shop; it just caught my eye on the way in, and was a firm enough cheese to eat on my lap on a bench without making a mess as well as having all that sheep’s-milk goodness in it. I finished off lunch with a 2-scoop cup from Ciao Bella Gelato: one scoop of guava sorbet, and one of pear sorbet. The guava was lovely, tropical on the nose and the tongue, but the pear was outstanding: intense, definitely Bartlett, and with a graininess on the palette that was just like eating a fresh pear, only 100x more so.
Since I had an early drink planned with a friend and would likely have a late dinner on my own, I picked up a few things for a snack in my room. A visit to Farm Fresh To You yielded a package of chili-lemon almonds and a selection of olives: some Mediterranean-style black olives aged for 18 months, plus green olives stuffed with almonds, and some stuffed with blue cheese. As I sit here now and nibble on these, I think that they should all be declared illegal for being just too good. I also picked up a 2003 Castillo Labastida Crianza Rioja from the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, although I had a glass of wine left in a bottle of Aussie Shiraz from earlier in the week so I haven’t opened this yet.
The best is yet to be tasted, however: I stopped by Recchiuti and selected four perfect chocolates to enjoy at the end of the day: one star anise and pink peppercorn, one cardamom, one cassis strata, and one tarragon and grapefruit. Given the two speciality chocolatiers in this one market, I think that Ghirardelli’s is seeing a bit of competition locally.
I also picked up a jar of truffle salt from Far West Fungi, to be sprinkled as a finish on anything from meat to vegetables to popcorn (although sparingly, at $24 for a small jar). I tasted this in the shop, and it has an exquisite truffle flavour from real truffles as well as the faux-truffle flavouring that goes into most truffle oils.
Tomorrow, I definitely walk some of the San Francisco hills, or I’m not going to be able to fit in the airplane seat going home next week.