CONFESSIONS OF A                                                                  
A San Francisco Girl's Down and Dirty Adventures in the Culinary Playground

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Just for ME (Mabel's Just For You Cafe -- San Francisco, CA)

Dogpatch. It's on the other side of Potrero Hill in the area that treads the fine line of cute/sketchy. Every time we are there, we comment about how it's just waiting to become prom queen.

Over in this quasi-neighborhood is Mabel's Just for You Cafe. Just for You used to be on the "acceptable" side of Potrero Hill at 18th and Connecticut (I think). We'd go for breakfast/lunch from work sometimes. It was a tiny hole in the wall with a counter and a table for three. It was on these trips that I discovered a) the louisiana hot sausage (if you haven't been paying attention, I love spicy food) and b) the fan-fucking-tastic cornbread. It's amazing. Plus, they have a nice sassy attitude (no cell phones, no kissing).

Here's the best part: When they moved to Dogpatch, they got tons more room and started making beignets. I shit you not. They make beignets. They are everything you want them to be -- fluffy with a perfect amount of sugary goodness. And they rule. We get an order no matter what. Usually everyone orders a breakfast and we get beignets on top of that.

Be prepared for a wait. It's a fun wait, though, with interesting people and dogs and babies. And you can have coffee while you wait.

I've never, ever eaten anything there that I didn't love. The eggs are fantastic. We have friends who live for the oatmeal pancakes. The Mexican specialties are perfect. Jon got some huevos rancheros with a green "yowza" sauce. It was heavenly. I love the hot chocolate -- it's got some nice cinnamon-y goodness in it.

Eating breakfast there represents everything I love about this city: great food in an unexpected place, diverse people and opportunities to connect. Hmmmm...maybe we'll go on Saturday.


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Slow and Steady (Slow Club -- San Francisco, CA)

***UPDATE 3/06: Chef Sante Salvoni, my favorite, has left the Slow Club under what I understand to be not-so-sexy circumstances. I am still waiting to see how the restaurant fares without him. Once I have a good handle on it, I'll do a full update.***

Sorry for the lapse in posts. I'm lazy. Actually, work has just picked up so I haven't had as much time to post, but I'm going to make up for it now.

When Jon and I first moved to San Francisco, he worked in an office that was one door down from Slow Club. I, too, worked there for about a year and we'd go there occasionally for lunch. That turned into the whole office going there for coffee in the morning, getting take-out when people needed to work through lunch (or dinner or on the weekends), and buying up their whole morning pastry supply when we had people in from out-of-town. The office closed, but we still go back. Not everyday now, but enough. We just can't stay away.

Here's why it's good: The owner, Erin, quite simply, rocks. From all of our observations, she treats her staff great and her customers like friends. We love her. One of the greatest things is that she never seems stressed out despite how stressful owning a restaurant must be. And everything always runs smoothly.

Reason number 2: They serve lunch AND dinner AND brunch on the weekends. This neighborhood is not residential and in terms of businesses, well they crashed with the dot-com bust. Everything fell to pieces around them (including the high profile Gordon's) but Slow Club's business stayed steady. It's a pretty damn good restaurant that can survive all of that without making major schedule changes. We've lived here for six years and everything has ALWAYS been consistent (in a good way, not a boring way). Impressive.

Reason number 3: Sante's cooking. I have a soft spot for Sante since he and I both come from the greater Boston area. That means that he sometimes makes things (like the best damn sausage ever) that I have been unable to find since coming to CA. But aside from my hometown loyalty, the food is just fucking great. I guess it's considered Cal-Mediterranean. I consider it good. Jon will tell anyone who asks that the burger is the best in the city (and yes, he's had Zuni's -- we live around the corner from them, but I'll post on Zuni another time). It's got a great bun, balsamic onions, lettuce, gorgeous tomatoes, mustard, a choice of cheese (including bleu) get the idea. And I have dreams about the french fries that come with it. I'm a sucker for fries. And these are my favorites. I've been known to order pasta AND fries (gross, I know, but I can't help it). On our most recent visit, I had bucatini (spagetti with a hole in the center if you are saying "buca-what?") with tomatoes, chili flake (I love spicy), pancetta and garlic. It was delish. I wanted it again the next day. But even if I had gone back for it, I probably would have had to order a different delicacy -- the menu changes daily (burger is ALWAYS there, though). The sandwiches at lunch are fantastic, the flatbreads are the best I've had. The entrees, whether salmon or pork or whatever are always delicious, and the accompaniments are sometimes so enticing that we'll order a dish just to experience them.

Desserts are super tasty as well. Give me that pot de creme any day.

Brunch is just as great. Jon loves the Ranchero Chicken, I'm partial to the fried egg sandwich and the french toast. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

Reason number 4: The staff. They are relaxed, friendly and professional. The pacing is great. Yay staff!

Reason number 5: The bar. The drink list is great, the wine list is great...hell, the soft drinks (especially the fresh lemonade) are great.

Reason number 6: They don't take reservations. This sucks if, say, you have family in town that you want to take there, but I love that it's democratic. First come, first served -- we're all equal.

It's a great place to take picky eaters. The food is accessible without being dumbed down. There is something for everyone. It's the best compromise for food snobs (like us) and food fearers (like your friend who only likes, well, burgers) dining together.

Slow Club is comfort food in the best sense. The restaurant decor is hip, but not pretentious. The low lights and warm colors make you want to linger over your meal no matter how noisy or crowded it gets. And you always leave feeling satisfied. It's like a food hug.


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Raw Deal (Roxanne's -- Larkspur, CA)

When we first heard that Roxanne's Restaurant in Larkspur was closing, we were a little bummed we never ate there. We procrastinated because, well, it seemed beyond pretentious. Cheese made out of nuts? Cold lasagna? Didn't sound too appealing but it was getting rave reviews so we figured we should try it out. Guess we were too late.

I would, however, like to state for the record that I called it from the moment they said they were closing. "Why," Jon asked, "would they close when they have been so successful?" To which I replied, "Well, Roxanne (Klein) owns it with her husband so my guess is divorce, one of them is sick or they're having a baby. It's got to be a life thing and not a business thing. All signs point to it being a successful restaurant, and besides, they're rich."

A few days later Grace Ann Walden (of the San Francisco Chronicle) reported that Roxanne told her that they were victims of their own success and their take-out business was taking customers away (no pun intended) from the restaurant, so they were only going to operate the take-out counter from now on. I wasn't buying it.

Two weeks later, Grace reported the take-out business was closing too, because (according to Roxanne), the couple was divorcing and, because of that, squabbling over who gets what.

It sucks for them, because I'm sure they are in a great deal of pain losing both their marriage and their restaurant. And it sucks for us, because as unappealing as it sounded, it was unique and innovative and now the chance to eat there is gone.

The upside is I love being right. I just wish I was right about something fabulous instead of something sucky.


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld

Monday, October 11, 2004

Thank God it's Fry Day (Phil's Fish Market -- Moss Landing, CA)

Phil's Fish Market is located down in Moss Landing near Monterey. We go there whenever we take a day to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium (Jon loves marine life, so we're members). Phil's is so yummy, we've actually considered driving down just to eat there.

Before we went to see the white shark that the aquarium has right now (sooooo cool), we hit Phil's for a little fried seafood action. Phil's is a fish market and restaurant all in one, and it gives us that fried seafood fix that we so desperately miss. Both of us grew up on the east coast and our childhoods were accented with trips to seafood shacks for fried scallops, shrimp, clams, take your pick. Until Phil's we thought those days were behind us.

Phil's menu is huge -- you can get more than just a heart attack there. They've got chowders, cioppino, sandwiches, seafood pastas, even a seafood quesadilla. It all looks mouth watering-ly good. For us, though, the fried seafood is where it's at.

We've discovered that the best way to order is thus: order your fried seafood from the appetizer section, rather than as a platter. Then get a side of fries. If you order as a platter, you'll get about 6 shrimp with fries for $10.95. For $15.95, you get 12 shrimp, the order of fries is only $1.95. It's definitely the way to go. We usually get that and some fried clams (you can only get those as an appetizer). Throw in a beer and a lemonade (someone needs to drive to the aquarium) and your bill is under $30. This meal will put you over the edge -- it's more than enough food. Beware the food coma that will follow.

On our visit this past weekend, it was (for once) a gorgeous day out at Moss Landing. We were able to follow the path from the restaurant to the gorgeous beach out back.

Life is good.


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld

Automatic for the People (Taylor's Automatic Refresher -- San Francisco, CA or St.Helena, CA)

Here's the Taylor's review -- better late than never, right?

The original Taylor's is in St. Helena, on the side of the road. It is quite possibly the nicest hamburger stand in the world. They've got a gorgeous lawn with huge picnic tables in back, and the friendly staff will even bring your order out to you. And man, is the food good. Besides the expected burgers, Taylor's has fish tacos, corndogs, chicken sandwiches (and fingers), garlic fries and super thick shakes made with Double Rainbow ice cream. It is a challenge not to stop when in Napa, even when your dinner reservation at Martini House is only a half an hour in the future.

We were overjoyed when we hard Taylor's was opening an outpost here in San Francisco at the Ferry Building. They've got those same picnic tables (except they are on the sidewalk instead of a lawn), and the same great food.

On our last visit, we had the chicken fingers basket (we subbed in garlic fries for regular ones) and the Chinese chicken salad. Lots of chicken on this visit, I guess...I usually get a veggie burger and Jon usually gets a regular burger but we decided to switch it up. Every time we go, we have a hard time deciding what to order since everything is so damn good!

We took Jon's parents, sister and his sister's boyfriend there on their last visit. We each ordered something different (Angie, Jon's sister, had a GREAT looking ahi tuna burger) and there was no food left on the table. In fact, Jon's mom, who doesn't eat much at all, sent Jon back in to get some of the mini corn dogs and more beer. I think that we may have eaten everything on the menu in that one meal. And everyone loved it. Keep in mind that these are people who spent the rest of the weekend eating at Delfina, Slanted Door and Zuni. And they couldn't get enough of Taylor's.

Taylor's gives you nifty little pagers so that you know when your food is ready. All of the staff is super friendly. We like to sit at the counter so we can watch them make the food, while wishing we had thought to order what ever it is they happen to be making at the time.

The best thing about Taylor's is it gives you haute hamburger stand food while still providing the fuzzy nostalgia feeling that a regular hamburger stand gives you. I'm so glad we don't have to drive 90 minutes for that feeling anymore.

Eat there now!


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld

Friday, October 08, 2004

You've lost that lovin' feeling... (The Slanted Door -- San Francisco, CA)

*** UPDATE on the Slanted Door here***

The problem with being a restaurant whore is you tend to fall a little in love with some of your tricks. Alas, today's post is about our long relationship with the famed Slanted Door.

Jon and I began going to Slanted Door when we moved to San Francisco in 1998 and lived four blocks away from the original Valencia Street location. We were immediately smitten, and went at least once a week, often more frequently. As time went on, we got to know the staff. We knew most of the waiters and kitchen staff by name, we had a direct line to a member of the Phan family for reservations.

We loved that it was a neighborhood restaurant run by a family that had worked so hard to get where they are. Charles Phan, the owner, had created something truly amazing and his whole family was right there with him.

Slanted Door took very good care of us. Always loyal, they'd bend over backwards to get us in during busy times and we always saw at least one comped item.

We loved this restaurant for several reasons. First and foremost (even above the exsquisite food) was the people. We just loved going to a restaurant and feeling like we were surrounded by good friends. We would buy the staff Christmas gifts -- indeed, we just recently bought one of the chefs a wedding gift. We got invited to several parties thrown by members of the staff. We felt that when we went there, our souls as well as our bodies were nourished. We always took out of town guests there and celebrated important occasions with them. On our second anniversary (at the Brannan St. location), a chef friend of ours ordered and cooked us lobsters. They took very good care of us, and in turn, we them. We left large tips (always above 20%, one time, when we were comped several dishes, we tipped 50%).

And of course, the food. Who can resist the crispy imperial rolls or the refreshing spring rolls? We delighted in seeing how the menu would change so we could try something different on every visit. Jon, who hates tofu, would look forward to going there just so he could order their lemongrass tofu. There was never a bad dish. Special mention goes to the desserts. So many diners seemed to skip them, but we couldn't wait to eat our sticky black rice pudding or thai basil panna cotta.

And as Reisling lovers, we loved that wine list. And giggled every time some jackass asked for a glass of Chardonnay (there are none -- it doesn't go with the food).

We were thrilled when we heard they were going to expand. They had purchased the building next door, and the Valencia location was going to undergo a huge makeover. We couldn't wait to see it. Originally, they were planning to shut down for 6 months and then re-open. It was decided that they didn't want to lose the great staff they had, so they moved to a temporary location on Brannan Street. On their last night on Valencia Street, we ate dinner there and toasted, with the staff, to a bright future.

With the move to Brannan St., there came big changes. We tried to write it off as "new space, working out the kinks," but it soon became apparent that the Slanted door we knew and loved was changing. The addition of a full bar and the new Embarcadero location drew in a different set of customers. Instead of Mission locals and diners who were willing to trek from other areas of the city for good food, we began to see investment bankers dining for business, yuppies trying to impress their dates, and a large crowd of people who all felt entitled to eat there (fairly, so did we, but we had a history).

We also noticed that the staff was not as happy. Instead of "Oh we're so happy to see you guys", it became "Thank God, you guys are here, we don't want to deal with our other customers." They looked labored; they complained of how difficult the new location was to navigate, and were clearly glad it was only temporary.

The staff was still wonderful to us and worked hard to get us a table whenever we came in. Because the restaurant was bigger, the staff grew and there were times we didn't know who was waiting on us. We didn't mind this, we'd simply introduce ourselves and move on. On most occasions, they had already been told who we were. Then came our birthdays.

Jon and I have birthdays that are three days apart so we usually celebrate together. On these particular birthdays, we went with eight friends to celebrate. We left devastated. We did the prix fixe menu (parties of 8 or more must do this). We were comped nothing even though it was our birthdays (for some perspective, the last time we went for a friend's birthday, the comped us five desserts for four people). They also, for the first time ever, charged us corkage. Despite the fact we had mentioned it in our reservation, no one said happy birthday. On our way out, one of our favorite waiters was horrified when he heard it had been our birthdays and no one knew. We were hurt; we felt we had been so incredibly loyal through everything, and this just added insult to injury. We didn't go back for two months. The reason why this sucked so much was not because we didn't get special treatment, it was because on EVERY other visit, we had been treated one way, and now on our birthdays, they totally dropped the ball.

Then came the news they were moving to the Ferry Building. This closed the door on Valencia, although they still claim that they will be opening a street food restaurant there (we'll see...). We were invited to a pre-opening party for the new, swank, sexy location at One Ferry Plaza.

We have never felt so special as we did at this party. I came late because I had a show, but Jon was allowed in the kitchen, given special drinks, etc. When I arrived, they poured me champagne even though the bar was closed -- in fact, the bartender said "I don't care if I get fired for this, I have to do this for you." We had a renewed hope.

And boy, do we still love those people. But it's not the same. We can't get in; it's packed with tourists, farmer's market visitors, more of those investment bankers and stock traders and yuppies trying to impress their dates. They will still accomodate us if we call and ask for a favor, and they will do it happily, but who wants to be that asshole? And when we do sit down, we get the same friendly service, we get comps (but not consistently), we get the love. The bottom line is, however, if we want to eat there on the spur of the moment we simply can't. There is too much hype now.

In addition, we know several of the staff who are so miserable they've either left or are thinking about it. We visit them now at other restaurants. The place is so huge now, half of the staff are complete strangers to us.

And it pains me to say this, but the food is slipping. The menu has hardly changed since they moved, despite the palatial kitchen. And maybe we've just eaten there too often, but nothing seems that exciting to us anymore (except the desserts -- you go Mutsumi!).

It's now HUGE. Charles is so famous, as is the restaurant. People come from far and wide to eat there. And we feel proud that they have been so successful, but sad that what we loved about it had to suffer.

It may just be sour grapes, but I don't think so. It's a different restaurant than the one we fell in love with and that's OK. We'll still eat there, just not as much. What made it so special to us, no longer exists and we've accepted that. We've gone through a twelve step program for it and everything :). Our neighborhood restaurant is now a ultra hip eat-here-now dining establishment that doesn't cater to regulars.

So for now, we sneak in when we can so we can see the people we miss, and when we can't, we just swing on over to Taylor's Refresher, also at the ferry building. And we became very aware of how our affection for Slanted Door has waned when we weren't sad that we had to do so last night. We went into Slanted Door, said hi, saw they were busy and were happy to leave the "I'm-so-much-cooler-than-you" crowd to go to Taylor's.

And you can get a damn good meal for $20 at Taylors...I'll fill you in on that tomorrow.


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Mais oui! (Cafe Jacqueline -- San Francisco, CA)

Souffle? Who wants to eat souffle for dinner???


If you've never been to Cafe Jacqueline, get your ass there now. Seriously. We've been there twice and both times we left feeling like we'd been told a very special secret.

Cafe Jacqueline is in North Beach, on Grant between Union and Green. It's only open Wed-Sun, and if you want a reservation, you have to call during dinner service on one of those days. It's worth it.

The restaurant is adorable. Simple but achingly romantic. The waiters can be very bitchy. If you sweet talk them a bit, they'll warm up.

And the food --oooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhh....The bread comes warm and crusty with ice cold butter. It's heaven. The souffles themselves are lighter than Lara Flynn Boyle and tasty to boot. We love getting the chocolate souffle for dessert, choking on the powdered sugar that tops it, and eating the rest for breakfast the following morning. The savory souffles are excellent. Two of us cannot finish a savory and a dessert; I'd suggest four people sharing the two, although the waiters will try to encourage you to get more. If you think you'll be hungry (you won't), order a soup or a salad.

The biggest reason of all to go to Cafe Jacqueline is Jacqueline herself. This woman is like the grandmother everyone wishes they had. When you walk through her kitchen to get to the bathroom, you see her with her huge copper bowl of eggs, whipping up every souffle that reaches every table. She told Jon that she tried letting someone else work her kitchen so she could have a break, but ultimately let them go because she missed it so much. She sat in her car and looked into the restaurant from the street every night she wasn't cooking.

Jacqueline is stunning. She radiates kindness and warmth and just seeing her for a moment takes your breath away. We are acutely aware that Cafe Jacqueline is as unique as Jacqueline herself, and therefore the time to eat there is now. For when she is gone, so will the restaurant be too. So just eat there already, damn it!


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish (Miyabi -- San Francisco, CA)

**UPDATE 2/22/09: I haven't been to Miyabi in years, so I can't make any promises about how good they are today...**

Tonight we had ourselves a little sushi goodness from Miyabi. Miyabi is on Church St. near Market and it is super yummy. In addition to the great sushi they've got other Japanese delights.

Top three reasons to eat at Miyabi:

1) It's pretty damn good

2) It's relatively cheap -- in a "good value for your money" kind of way and not a "let's just drown it in wasabi" kind of way. The lunch deals are an especially good deal.

3) They are open until 1:00 a.m.

Jon loves their spicy tuna salad. If you sit at the sushi bar, you can ask to get it extra spicy. There are specials on the board, like the Cali Flower Roll which is a California roll wrapped with spicy tuna and seaweed salad in the middle. All the sushi is good (the salmon especially); in fact, I've never had anything not good there and we've been going there for about five years. It's a great place to go with a large group...they even have a private room in the back if you want to have an all out party.

The staff couldn't be nicer. Once they get to know you they'll give you little treats like edamame or mochi from time to time. Yay for free things!

So for the love of whomever you believe in, ditch crappy No Name Sushi down the street. Save yourself the food poisoning and give Miyabi a little love!


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld

Taco, burrito, what's comin' out of your speedo? (El Farolito)

Did you ever see that SNL sketch with Cheri Oteri and Will Ferrell as the Spartan Cheerleaders? Well, the title of this post is from that sketch and I felt it fitting as my evening meal last night came from none other than the magical El Farolito.

El Farolito is on Mission St. at 24th St. They have another location on 24th, but I usually go to the one on Mission. I don't know what they put in their burritos to make them taste so good, but I'm pretty sure it's a derivative of cocaine. Which makes a lot of sense when you consider the neighborhood really.

I usually get a vegetarian burrito, with black beans, no sour cream .... Jon gets a super quesadilla suiza al pastor (yummy pork) with everything. Our cat, Charlie, generally eats the tortilla chips (we can't stop him, he loves Mexican food).

The food at El Farolito is by far my favorite "fast" Mexican food in the city. We usually take the food to go, but our ten minutes inside the walls of the restaurant always provide a colorful experience. Two weeks ago we overheard an obviously very intoxicated man telling his GORGEOUS date that she could do better than him, that he was too fucked up for her. She adamantly protested (side note: he was totally right, and she was totally stupid) . We always see at least one family with three generations or more enjoying their meal of tortas, and without fail a homeless person or two who are the occasional receipients of a culinary gift (when an order is botched). I LOVE it there. But I have a hard time eating inside the restaurant as the smells from the bathroom don't aid in my digestion.

Here's the best part: They're open until THREE IN THE MORNING. HOORAY! I haven't mentioned this yet, but I'm an actor, and after a performance there are only, like, 4 places in the city open by the time I get home. Thank God for El Farolito.

There's nothing like that first bite. That melty feeling inside your mouth that makes you swoon. Last night, we noticed that they have added shrimp ceviche tacos to the menu. Jon's response to reading that was "makes me feel like pooping." That's my husband, ladies and gentlemen. I love El Farolito, but I don't think I'll be trying out their seafood options any time soon.


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld

Monday, October 04, 2004

The Rules

So I thought I should mention that since this is all opinion, we are not terribly fair. Restaurants get one chance and one chance only (unless we are REALLY hungry and in the neighborhood). Most professional critics visit a restaurant at least 3 times before publishing a review. I think that's crap. If a restaurant isn't consistent, it's not worth your hard earned cash.

Also, I don't eat beef or lamb, but Jon does so we usually get a pretty balanced experience of what a restaurant has to offer.

We base our opinions on the restaurant as a whole. Food and service are the two most important things (equally important, I think) -- ambience less so, although it is nice...

Oh yeah -- we don't eat at fast food/chain restaurants. The human rights issues involved with that are just too many for me to bear. So if you're looking for a review of McDonald's or Chevy's, you're lookin' in the wrong place.

Those are the rules. They are subject to change at any time.


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld

Mmm mmm mmm...


My name is Joy and I am a restaurant whore (All together now -- "Hi, Joy!"). My husband, Jon, and I both love restaurants, and we love great food. I'm in San Francisco, so most of my posts will be based on restaurants in a 90 mile radius of here. We do, however, explore the dining scenes of other cities when we travel, so we may just happen to post about someplace random every now and again.

Please feel free to let me know via post if there is a restaurant you'd like me to weigh in on. We don't discriminate; from the skankiest taqueria all the way up to the French Laundry, we know a good meal when we see one. Stay tuned for food news, restaurant reviews and tales of my culinary escapades.

Happy Eating!


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld