Monday, April 18, 2005

SF Food Tour

After 5 1/2 hours in the car and several fast food pitstops (blech!), we were starving for some real food by the time we arrived in San Francisco.

Our host, my good old friend from way-back-when, knows me sooo well: knowing what we'd be craving, she took us to go see another good old friend, Ebisu, a cozy sushi bar/Japanese restaurant in SF's Sunset District. Ebisu is a local fave so we arrived early--6:15-ish--to avoid the long wait that this place is notorious for (last time we came we waited over an hour). Lucky for us that we were seated immediately 'cause in the few minutes we spent deciding what to order, their waiting area was already filling up.


First up, assorted nigiri sushi. Isaac fulfilled his usual shrimp fetish with ebi, and we all split some hamachi (yellowtail) and albacore. Fish was melt-in-your-mouth fresh but the rice was just a tad too sweet. Someone must've gone a little too crazy with the sugar back there.

Ebisu's Nigiri Sushi

I've kind of steered myself away from sushi rolls lately because of my penchance for sashimi and nigiri, but Ebisu's rolls are consistently good, so I thought what the heck. We ended up with some cute and artfully presented rolls with equally cute names: Spider (well you might have heard that one before), Tokyo Tower, and 49er. The "fried-stuff" rolls, the soft-shell crab Spider and the shrimp tempura Tokyo Tower were beautifully arranged in a round lacquered tray with an orchid in the middle. They were good too. The soft shell crab was fried to perfection, crispy, but still retained that slightly bitter crab innards taste which I happen to love. Both rolls had avocado, cucumber and tobiko (smelt egg) which balanced the fried stuff out perfectly. I don't know why they call their shrimp tempura rolls "Tokyo Tower"...maybe it's because the little shrimp stumps stick out of the roll like towers? Oh well, we'll give them an "A" for creativity.

Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'

I think the 49er roll might be something more of a Bay Area concoction, invented perhaps in the NFL team's glory days. Rival football fans wouldn't be caught dead ordering it down here in LA. Appropriately named, this average Joe (Montana) roll consisting of avocado and shiso leaf surrounded by (Jerry) rice suddenly becomes stronger draped in red (well more like pinkish orange in this case) & gold: sake (salmon) and a thin slice of lemon. I liked this roll too, although the shiso leaf really had a kick this time and overpowered the salmon a bit.

49er Roll

One of my major pet peeves about San Francisco is that you can never be comfortable temperature-wise. One minute you're hot, next minute you're cold. Put on the jacket, take off the jacket. Order some cold food, order some hot food. We needed to add a little yin to our yang so we also ordered some temperature balancing foods: assorted tempura and beef sukiyaki. The tempura was good & crispy with decent sized shrimp, and the beef sukiyaki wasn't the best I've had as the beef was a little overcooked but still hit the spot.

Assorted Tempura

Beef Sukiyaki

For desert, green tea ice cream just wasn't going to cut it so we decided to just pay our bill and then head up to Tartine, a bakery/cafe in the Mission district well-known for its use of seasonal and organic ingredients. Not surprisingly, there was a lack of parking nearby and Tartine was closing in about half hour, so my friend decided to drop us off and circle the block while we went inside to order take away. We walked into the small but elegant storefront and as we pressed our faces into the glass cases we were immediately overwhelmed by what to buy (even though it was almost closing time and much of their goods had sold out). Think small and sweet was the object of the game. Much of what they had left were whole cakes and savory goods (which looked delish, esp. the quiches and Croque Monsieur) so we snatched up the 2 slices of Opera Cake they had left and a Banana Cream Tart. The girls behind the counter were all Gwenyth paltrow clones dressed in black turtlenecks, were snooty and didn't smile. So I'm glad we decided to do dessert-to-go because you don't get tips for putting on airs.

The opera cake, layered with hazelnuts, espresso buttercream and chocolate ganache, was a little too powerful on the coffee flavor and lacked freshness. The banana cream tart was much better. Its banana and pastry cream filling was light and airy; you could tell they used perfect bananas, not too green nor too ripe. The chocolate shavings and cream on top were yummy and made the whole thing look divine. The only part that could've used some work was the shell which had a good amount of sweetness but was a little stale in some spots. So, Tartine's deserts were good but not great. Maybe they lacked freshness because we bought them at closing time. Or maybe their ice-cold servers sucked the life out of the food. I'd still give them another try though.

Tartine's Opera Cake

Banana Cream Tart

The next morning, my friend wanted to fit in brunch before we hit the road so we all decided to try Miss Millie's, a cute little contemporary American in Noe Valley. Miss Millie's is your typical American bistro, mahogany and brass adorned, cozy and accented with French countryside decorations--antique plates and the like. It looked a little chichi for brunch but what the hell, we're on vacation.

Miss Millie's

I ordered an Oven Dried Tomato Scramble that could have been really good if they went heavier on the goat cheese & basil and not as heavy on the eggs. It came with some pretty good roasted new potatoes, thin skinned and with a hint of rosemary. Isaac ordered something similar: Hobb's Bacon and Egg Scramble (who is Hobb???) with leeks and avocado which was so-so as the bacon wasn't crispy enough. To top it all off, both our plates came with a hunk of sourdough toast which was so hard it almost broke our teeth. My friend's dish, the Baguette French Toast was, however, amazing. As all good french toasts should be, this one was dense and moist on the inside and perfectly browned (but still moist) on the outside. Each bite was well-flavored with vanilla bean and maple syrup. And the cute little slices of banana that came with complimented the dish nicely.

Oven Dried Tomato & Egg Scramble

Hobb's Bacon and Egg Scramble

Baguette French Toast

All in all, Miss Millie's was *eh.* I think she's got some big time insecurity issues: she's more about the atmosphere and she tries a little too hard to be upscale as the food's too pricey for what it is ($4.25 for a side of sausage? $4.75 for a glass of Martinelli's Apple Cider???). She's got some good potential though. After all, she did redeem herself with her french toast. Well if at first you don't succeed...

1283 9th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94112
(415) 566-1770

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 487-2600
(415) 487-2605

Miss Millie's
4123 24th St.
San Francisco, CA 94114

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