Recently in San Francisco category

The Ice Cream Bar

The Ice Cream Bar

Rats! It used to be my dream to open an ice cream bar. But then again, that’s coming from the guy who thought that no one in America would be interested in bean-to-bar chocolate, no one in Los Angeles would ever buy artisan bread, and who sold his Apple stock when it was 38 per share.

As I’ve been traveling around the U.S., I’ve noticed all the artisan places that have popped up, everything from local olive oil at San Francisco airport, folks distilling whiskey in big cities, and people waiting three hours for a plate of smoked meat. Am not sure exactly how to explain this phenomenon to people who live outside the United States, but whatever triggered it, I gotta say, I’m swallowing my words.

The Ice Cream Bar

However perhaps I was ahead of the curve because after I’d written my ice cream book, I played with the idea of opening an ice cream shop (unfortunately, not with any money I made on my Apple stock), where I imagined myself churning away all sorts of flavors, using bean-to-bar chocolate (after I got done kicking myself…), artisan breadcrumbs (don’t get me started…) as well as local fruits and berries.

While on book tour, I met a number of swell folks who handed me their battered copies of The Perfect Scoop for me to sign, worn down from being passed around the kitchen of visionaries who had better insight than I, and opened ice cream shops.

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Josey Baker’s Adventure Bread

Josey Baker gluten-free bread recipe

It gives me a little frowny face when people tell me that they can’t find good bread in America. But I’m turnin’ that frown upside down because the more I travel, the more good bread I see. And I love passing on the word because, really, everyone should have access to good bread – no matter where they are.

The San Francisco Bay Area has had a tradition of good bread for a while, from the golden loaves of airy Boudin San Francisco sourdough, to the earthy levain breads from Acme, Tartine, b. pâtisserie, Della Fattoria, and all the other bakeries that are pulling terrific loaves out of the oven daily, in the area.

Josey Baker Bread

People in San Francisco are obsessed with good bread, and good food – a tradition which I am happy to report is still in evidence from all the great meals I’ve been having on this trip. And like France, and many other countries, bakeries are important to the community. One bakery that is extra-special to me is The Mill, which I discovered on my last trip. And one that I was anxious to revisit on this one.

Josey Baker Bread

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Zuni Café and Chez Panisse

Zuni hamburger with blue cheese

I tried. I gave it my best shot to try and make it through the list of the new places that were on my radar for my visit to San Francisco, the one that I’d been scribbling down for the last few month. But getting felled by a bout of whatever it was that I picked up on my flight sapped me of a bit of my energy. Fortunately, midway through my trip, I was able to rally back and proved myself to be the trooper that I knew I could be. But apologies to the folks who came by to meet me at my event, for the laryngitis that prevented me from expressing my enthusiasm for meeting you! And thanks for braving the cold temperatures to come out and say hi.

Even since my last visit just a few years ago, a bunch of bakeries, chocolate purveyors, bread places, and restaurants have opened in San Francisco that pretty much knocked my socks off. I was also thrilled to see that the city has implemented a city-wide composting program, to deal with all the kitchen and food scraps that normally get tossed. Seeing that has prompted me to take another look at options in my own kitchen in Paris, since it pains me to throw things that can be reused away. (The worm-based composters, which seem to be the best option for apartment-dwellers, make me a little uneasy. I have nothing against worms, but am not sure I could sleep soundly at night with a big container of them wriggling around nearby.)

Zuni burger

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Sweet San Francisco

Kouign amann

Since the time I left, San Francisco has become a much sweeter place. I hope that’s just a mere coincidence, but I have been surprised at the spate of new bakeries and sweet stops that have sprung up in the last few years. How nice would it have been to have visited them all? However my euro-jeans are starting to buckle under the weight of all the butter (of course, all the chips and guacamole, and other Mexican food, had absolutely nothing to do with it) and after finding myself unable to power through an entire San Francisco burrito, I realized that I had lost my SF-cred and will likely be escorted back to the plane for my return flight, as I hang my head in shame.

Still, I did manage to sneak in a few places that are newer on the scene. One was 20th Century Café. My friend Heidi* had recommended the knish, which sounded like an unusual recommendation because that’s something you usually get at a savory place, or a specialty address (any old-timers remember The Knish Konnection in San Francisco?) But I had just scored the perfect Christmas present for someone back home (which was 25% off – go USA!) from the Timbuktu store (go San Francisco!), and when the map function on my phone (go T-Mobile prepaid SIM card plan, so I could use my iPhone while traveling!) showed that I was just a few block away, I hoofed it over there.

20th Century Cafe

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The Mill

cinnamon toast

Toast? That’s what a friend told me they served at The Mill. I’ve been passing by The Mill daily on the #24 line bus, and from the façade, it’s hard to tell what’s going on in there. So I wasn’t sure it was worth the bother to hop off the bus to see.

Then, yesterday morning, I got an SMS from a friend who was spending some time at The Mill while some messy home projects were being attended to (involving drywall dust, so I understand completely) and I hustled down there to meet up with her. When I walked in, I was surprised that it was such a huge, cavernous place; from the outside, it just looked like any other store front on Divis.

bread rack at The Mill

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San Francisco Favorites and Dining

egg tarts at Saigon

I’m almost over the nasty whatever-it-was that I picked up riding in the back of the plane, in seat 37E, to be precise, en route to San Francisco. It didn’t help that it’s been freezing cold here (36ºF!), with snow in some of the outlying areas up north. Help came to me via the Kabuki Hot Springs, a mellow Japanese spa in the middle of the city with hot pools, a cold plunge (um, no thanks…), and a blissful steam, which helped cleared my head. I still have a bit of laryngitis, but that’s perhaps a blessing to those around me.

Getting socked with that has kind of put a damper on my energy level, although I’m finally on the mend and trying to visit some of my favorite places, as well as hitting a few of the new spots in town.

apricots and pluots

The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is a true “farmer’s market”, where farmers, cheesemakers, bread bakers, and others bring their wares – including a marvelous collection of dried cherries, apricots, pluots, and any other fruit you can imagine. It’s become quite the attraction and is extremely busy on weekends, and during the week, the restaurants are full at lunchtime with people eating grilled cheese sandwiches from Cowgirl Creamery, sandwiches on locally made charcuterie, and burgers made from sustainable, grass-fed beef. And when you’re done eating, anything left over can go right into the compost bucket.

It’s quite a sight/thrill to be surrounded by tangles of broccolini, bunches of spiky mizuna, lush bundles of dark mustard greens, kale in a rainbow of colors, and a bounty of fruits that even the most jaded Californian (and Parisian) can appreciate.

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Roam Artisan Burgers, Blue Bottle Coffee & Wooden Charcoal Korean Village Barbecue House

Korean soup

Now I know why they call America – The land of the free. I had a trifecta on my first day; The (normally pricey) watch repair place fixed my watch for free, with a “Merry Christmas!” as he walked onto the next customer, the mobile phone company not only gave me a new SIM card so I could talk and tweet away (which isn’t free, unfortunately) but gave Romain one, too, and last night as we were coming home from dinner, we passed by Boudin bakery, where the bakers were up baking loaves of sourdough bread.

The baker, wondering who the weirdos were (which was odd that he was watching us, because we’re certainly not the only weirdos in San Francisco), who were peering in the doorway. We told him we were just looking and I mentioned my other-half was from France, so he handed us a hefty bâtard of San Francisco sourdough. I dunno, maybe after the trip, we kind of looked bedraggled and in need of some nourishment.

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Dandelion Chocolate

Dandelion chocolate

One of the interesting things about leading chocolate tours is that I get to meet a wide swatch of people who have various interests. Some just like to come and taste, others have more professional aspirations. When Todd Masonis joined me a few years ago, we had some talks about his idea of opening a bean-to-bar hot chocolate salon. I had a pretty good amount of experience meeting with – and tasting – many of the American bean-to-bar chocolates, folks who were participating in what Chloé Doutre-Roussel, whose is one of the most knowledgable people about chocolate that I know, refers to as “The American Chocolate Revolution.” And I was encouraging, but also knew of the difficulties these folks faced in terms of building a facility to make chocolate.

Many of these people are mavericks, with the “revolution” starting over a decade ago, and now encompasses perhaps two dozen or so enterprising people who’ve been producing bean-to-bar chocolate in the states. Todd had started a successful internet company so I could tell he had the drive to do something new and interesting, but sourcing the beans and getting the equipment together isn’t easy. So no one was more surprised than me to get a note in my Inbox recently from Todd, who said that inspired by our talks on that trip, he was about to open his new place, Dandelion Chocolate, producing bean-to-bar chocolate in San Francisco’s Mission district with his business partner, Cameron Ring. And I was intrigued.

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