Food Fantasia in San Francisco
San Francisco is a city that can be enjoyed on a long vacation or a day trip. From the San Francisco Pier to Chinatown and the Asian Museum of Art at the United Nations Plaza, it is a magical walking journey to experience the diverse cultures of the people living in this city overlooking the San Francisco Bay.
If you take the CalTrain into San Francisco, it will be just a short stroll along the ocean walk to the Port of San Francisco Pier, founded in 1915. There, you will find the historic ferry building and see lines of people waiting to be seated at the Hog Island Oyster Co. The restaurant’s patio offers a view of the ferries taking passengers to Alcatraz, Sausalito and other interesting destinations. People don’t seem to mind a wait to sample the renowned fresh seafood, especially the Hog Island Oysters on the half-shell. A plate of these sensational fresh oysters are worth the wait.
The oyster bar offerings change daily and may include a selection of Hog Island Sweetwater (Pacific) Tomales Bay, CA, Hog Island Atlantic (Atlantic) Tomales Bay, CA, Peale Passage (Pacific), Peale Passage, WA, Cold Creek (Pacific), Hood Canal #7, WA, Glacier Point (Pacific) Kachemak Bay, AK, Rappahannock (Atlantic) Topping, VA and more at varying prices.
A must-try is a plate of Boquerones Piquillo aioli, chopped egg, with green herb sauce on a baguette served with a farmers market salad topped with sherry-dijon vinaigrette. These delightful little sandwiches are wonderful with a fresh lemonade or one of the signature Bloody Marys, served with pickled cauliflower. Bacon lovers will surely enjoy the special cocktail High on the Hog, made with bacon-fat-washed bourbon, apple cider, molasses, lemon, egg white, angostura and old fashioned bitters. If you’re a wine or beer drinker, there is a full menu of wine and beer by the glass or bottle.
Chef Christopher Laramie heads up the kitchen, where the star of the menu is the oyster plate, along with grilled squid, sustainable halibut, geoduck clam dishes and more. For hours and menu information visit: www.hogislandoysters.com.
Just a short walk from the Pier is the Asian Art Museum, located at 200 Larkin Street (between Fulton Street and Grove Street in the United Nations Plaza) where visitors take a magical journey through the art history of the Asian Culture. No visit to this amazing museum would be complete without a stop at the Cafe Asia, where the Cafe Asia’s chef and staff are dedicated to delivering an authentic Asian food experience. The current exhibition at the Asian Art Museum is SEDUCTION Japan’s Floating World, through May 10, 2015.
Executive Chef Melinda Quirino has a solid background in Asian food creations. As a chef at Hotel Nikko restaurant, she developed the entire Asian menu. Previously, she served as sous chef and chef in charge at Cafe American and Chez Moi. Chef Melinda shops for fresh produce at the farmers market at the United Nations Plaza, around the corner from the museum. She says she wants customers to have fresh food, while she supports the farmers.
The Cafe is also a perfect place to enjoy an afternoon tea service. The selection includes tea for one for $3.50 or tea for two for $6.00; there is green tea, High Mountain, Snow Bud (XUE YA), Organic Jasmin, Herbal White Chrysanthemum, Black Cloud, Red Leaf, Fujian Black, and Oolong Tea Phoenix Bird Dan Cong. The museum motto is “Go for the art and stay for the tea.”
Cafe Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday. From February to October, the cafe is open for dinner on Thursdays until 8:30 p.m. and is closed on Monday. Entry to the cafe does not require paid museum admission, and they do not take reservations, but do host special events. Visit: www.asianart.org.
While touring San Francisco on past visits I have always been fascinated by the Chinatown district. I look forward to walking up and down the streets filled with Chinese architecture and listening to people speaking Chinese, as well as every other language being spoken by visiting tourists. Perusing this historic area of the city, looking through the little shops, especially jewelers with their amazing collections of pearls and jade and photographing historic buildings is a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
Among the area’s main attractions are the many family owned and operated restaurants that line the streets. It’s nearly impossible to know which one to choose for dinner, but during an afternoon jaunt I opted to skip the place where Barack Obama ate and just wandered into the Z & Y Restaurant (at 655 Jackson Street), which looked authentic and inviting and is considered heat heaven for those who love hot and spicy Chinese food. (It was not until I was leaving after dinner that I saw the many Zagat ratings on the front door.)
The dining room is inviting in a Chinatown-movie-revisited sort of way, with tempting aromas floating from the kitchen, and hungry patrons savoring their favorite plates. Thereputation for serving Szechuan style hot dishes is well deserved. The dinner we shared consisted of an outstanding Basil Eggplant $8.95, a magical combination of perfectly cooked eggplant, garlic, hot Szechuan sauce, onions and sesame seeds. The salt and pepper crab at $27.00 was also a surprise of crispy crab topped with salt, pepper and greens that I found a bit dry; however the hot salty and spicy seemed to merge very well together for an intriguing finish. Tsing Tao Beer at $4.00 or hot green tea are delicious with this menu. The signature dish is chicken with explosive chili peppers, which looked outstanding, and has received raves from Zagat Guide and others.
Z & Y is a family owned restaurant where people who like it hot stand in line for and hour to enjoy their spicy favorites. Many locals eat here, as well as tourists who are in the know about experiencing the best of Szechuan favorites. The popular Chinatown restaurant was awarded a 2015 Michelin Bib Gourmand for good cuisine at a reasonable price. Bib Gourmand restaurants offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less (tax and gratuity not included), and are often most valuable to city residents, who regularly dine in neighborhood restaurants. This experience confirms that intuition can be a wonderful thing, and this visit to Z & Y confirms my feeling that listening to your hunches can pay off big in an “duo chi dian” (eat more) way! www.zandyrestaurant.com.