I went in with high expectations, but they were completely blow away. This was honestly one of the best meals of my life. I cannot recommend Chef Francis Ang and Pinoy Heritage enough. Be sure to follow them on Instagram or check out Feastly to go to one of their other meals. If interested, you can use my referral code, which will get you $10 off your first meal: http://fst.im/s/c0ad1e09.
I recently wrote a post about some of my favorite SF bakeries, but San Francisco is teeming with pastries that are just waiting to be eaten. One of my new favorite places is Vive La Tarte (1160 Howard St.) in SOMA. Filled in a light and airy warehouse, Vive La Tarte is a great space to hold a meeting or hunker down and work. They offer classic croissants, pain au chocolat and almond croissants, as well as filled ones like strawberry shortcake and banana ginger. If the croissants weren’t enough to tempt you, there’s slices of pizza, quiche, tarts and cheesecake!
I stayed focused on the croissants and tried the strawberry shortcake, banana ginger, pain au chocolat and almond croissant. I’ll be honest and let you know that the filled croissants, while very Instagrammable, are not that good. I found that with the filling, the croissant becomes soggy. There also wasn’t enough strawberry or banana flavor. Stick with the classics like pain au chocolat. While I did enjoy the taste of the chocolate filling immensely, I wish there were two chocolate batons instead of one. The amount of pastry surrounding the chocolate is huge so there are many bites that are chocolate-less. Let’s face it; those are sad bites. I do highly recommend the almond croissant, which was completely filled from top to bottom with almond goodness (very impressive). It had that perfect marzipan taste and the filling oozes out with every bite. I’m quite confident that this is my favorite almond croissant.
If the pastries aren’t enough for you, grab a cup of the Sightglass Coffee. I love how cute the space at Vive La Tarte is with actual tables, bench and counter seating. I can’t wait to go back and work my way through some of the tarts and cheesecake.
I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t love Arsicault (397 Arguello Blvd.), which Bon Appétit crowned the best new bakery in America in 2016. Arsicault hosts a small menu with plain croissant, pain au chocolat, kouign amann, almond croissant, almond and chocolate croissant, ham and cheese croissant, morning bun and cookies. Everyone that works there is super friendly and helpful. I know the lines can be over an hour on the weekends.
I tried the croissant, kouign amann, almond croissant and almond + chocolate croissant. The plain croissant had plenty of butter but it was very dense, not light and airy, which I prefer. The almond croissant did not have the marzipan flavor that I adore so much and I didn’t find the almond flavor to be very strong (plenty of filling though). I did like the taste of the chocolate in the almond and chocolate croissant. I also greatly appreciated how the pain au chocolat come with two chocolate batons. My favorite was actually the kouign amann. It’s not quite as crispy as b. patisserie, but the outer edges are crispy while the inside is softer. There’s still the wonderful sugar crust on top. If I ever went back, that would be the one item for me!
I write about brunch a lot. In San Francisco, brunch is practically a religion. While I do love a good brunch, I can’t stand waiting 2+ hours for food. I thought I’d write a quick and dirty guide of some of the best places to brunch in SF and what is and isn’t worth your time.
One of the most exciting openings of 2016 was when renowned Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero St.) opened a 2nd location at Tartine Manufactory (595 Alabama St.). Finally, Tartine’s bread could be available to the masses and not just at 4pm onward in the original Mission location. Tartine Manufactory is in a bigger airy space, complete with a full-service bar. While the offerings are different at Tartine Manufactory compared to the bakery, there are plenty of choices to delight your fancy.
It is worth the trip to Tartine Manufactory solely for the porchetta and fried egg sandwich. I kid you not. It is that good. On a beautifully toasted brioche bun, you’ll find layers of rich, thinly-sliced porchetta, a slightly runny fried egg, fresh watercress and crunchy pork rinds. The pork rinds make the sandwich by adding extra texture that complements against the runny egg yolk. This is heaven in a sandwich. If the thought of eating a porchetta sandwich is going to put you in a coma for the rest of the day, there are plenty of lighter choices. I highly recommend whatever their open-faced sandwich is for the day. I’ve had mind-blowing smoked trout on a healthy, hearty bread, as well as mascarpone, homemade apple butter and apples on their country bread. Their coddled egg is also a great alternative for a lighter brunch. It comes topped with trout roe and 3 pieces of the country bread (my favorite of all the Tartine breads) with za’atar spices.
Plow (1299 18th St.) is the perfect place to hit during the week if you can. Weekend lines can be 2+ hours. If you are lucky enough to snag a table, you must order the buttermilk biscuit, which comes with life-changing honey butter. I also recommend their signature brunch dish, the plow. I always struggle at brunch because I usually want both savory and sweet dishes, but don’t want to order two entrees. The plow is perfect because it comes with two eggs, house made pork sausage patties, mini lemon ricotta pancakes and plow potatoes. Their sausage patties are full of flavor, without being too oily. I love anything lemon and their lemon ricotta pancakes are light, fluffy and wonderfully zesty. The corn muffin is a total pass (save your calories for the biscuit) and while the French toast is solid, I’d rather eat the pancakes.
Zazie (941 Cole St.) is another SF brunch institution (I’m telling you… people take their brunch really seriously here). I don’t know why Zazie had never been on my radar, probably because I never go to Cole Valley. But apparently, Adele likes to brunch at Zazie so my friend and I had to try. Similar to Plow, expect long waits on the weekend, so try and come during the week if you can. What I liked most about Zazie is they let you customize the quantity of your order. For the eggs Benedict, you can order just 1 and the same goes for their pancakes. I love any restaurant that let’s me order multiple dishes (again, I’m into both savory and sweet for breakfast).
I ordered the eggs Benedict with avocado, bacon and cheese and my friend ordered a scramble. We decided to split Sarah Jane’s flight, which comes with 1 buttermilk pancake, 1 ginger pancake and 1 French toast. If you come to Zazie, you must order eggs Benedict and get the home fries (screw ordering the salad, people). Their Hollandaise sauce is absolutely perfect, creamy without being too heavy and having a wonderful citrus flavor. Zazie’s home fries are the best home fries I’ve ever had in my life. They are roasted in a way where the outside is crispy but the interior is still soft and chewy. Zazie roast their home fries with garlic, which gives their potatoes an extra layer of complexity. They are to die for. Out of the flight, the French toast and buttermilk pancake did not impress me. I would order the ginger pancake again, primarily because it’s topped with fresh lemon curd (love me some lemon) and a poached pear. It even tastes amazing cold the next day!
San Francisco is full of amazing bakeries (hello, Tartine), but I wanted to write about three well-known ones: 1) Neighbor Bakehouse, 2) Mr. Holmes Bakehouse and 3) b. patisserie.
Hands down, Neighbor Bakehouse (2343 3rd St #100) wins for best croissant in SF. Located in the Dogpatch, Neighbor Bakehouse has the best croissant dough I’ve tasted outside of Paris. Their dough is buttery and flaky, not heavy or waxy. When you take a bite into a fresh croissant, there’s an audible crunch! It’s no wonder that practically all their pastries are made out of this dough. I’ve literally tried their entire menu and have ranked it for you.
- Everything Croissant. Their most famous croissant is a must order. Their croissant is filled with cream cheese and chives and the filling is generous, not a tiny sliver. They then top it with everything bagel seasoning: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic and onion flakes. It’s the best of an everything bagel in a croissant.
- Sauerkraut Smoked Cheddar Peppadew Tart. Don’t get confused by the term “tart.” It’s basically a hand pie in croissant dough. While the thought of sauerkraut in a savory hand pie may turn you off, give it a chance. Their sauerkraut isn’t very sour and this tart is filled with cheese and piquanté peppers. I love the contrast of the sweetness of the peppers with the brine of the sauerkraut. This is one pastry not to miss.
- Cinnamon Almond Bostock. I didn’t know what a bostock was when I ordered it. Now, I know it’s day-old brioche topped with almond frangipane. I freaking love frangipane and all things marzipan and this cinnamon almond bostock tastes like custard French toast filled with almond paste. It’s one of the few items in the baked goods section that isn’t made out of croissant dough and I love it.
- Ginger Pull-Apart. Giant croissant dough ball brushed with a bright ginger syrup. Pull apart with your fingers and enjoy!
Things I did not enjoy at Neighbor Bakehouse. Don’t waste your wallet or waistline on these because I’ve already done the work for you:
- Twice-Baked Croissant. I’ve tried two flavors and have not been impressed with either. The pistachio and blackberry didn’t have much pistachio or blackberry flavoring and the croissant becomes denser and flat.
- Doughp Buns. I’ve had both the chocolate and passionfruit doughp buns. The fillings were tasty, but the ratio of bun to filling was too high. These were also really dense and did nothing for me. I ended up scraping out the sweet nectar of the filling and tossing the buns.
- Apple Hand Pie and Guava & Cheese Pastelito. Both are these are basically turnovers. Unfortunately, I don’t like the dough. Unlike the croissant dough, their turnover dough isn’t flaky and doesn’t have a ton of flavor. I was really disappointed that the apple hand pie didn’t have a stronger apple and cinnamon flavor.
- Smoked Fish Cream Cheese Croissant. A croissant filled with salmon cream cheese and topped with sesame seeds. While not bad, the everything croissant is so much better. There’s not enough salmon in the filling and the everything croissant is more flavorful thanks to the garlic and onion flakes.
- Ham and Cheese Morning Bun. Again, not a bad pastry, but it’s definitely very heavy between the ham, cheese and all the butter in the croissant dough. It’s very one-dimensional. You’re much better off getting the sauerkraut tart.
I can wax on about Neighbor Bakehouse, but I think it’s only fair to compare it to Mr. Holmes Bakehouse (1042 Larkin St.), which is infamous for their cruffin. Marketed as a “croissant muffin,” the flavors change daily and are posted on their Instagram account. Mr. Holmes Bakehouse often runs out of cruffins by 10am and they limit how many each person can buy (2/person). The day that I went, I stood in line for the pina colada cruffin. I was impressed with how much cream was filled inside. However, the cruffin was a total letdown. While I actually really enjoyed the cream and could tell it was high quality, there was zero coconut or pina colada flavoring. The only coconut flavors came from the macaroon and it definitely wasn’t reminiscent of a pina colada. I’d be curious to try a different flavor because I think the cruffin has potential.
I did also order the churro croissant and it’s a croissant filled with dulce de leche cream and topped with cinnamon sugar. Considering how good their cream filling is and how much I love churros, this was quite delicious. I also enjoyed Mr. Holmes Bakehouse take on a savory croissant, the California croissant. This croissant is filled with smoked salmon, pickled ginger, wasabi and nori and then topped with more seaweed and sesame seeds. When I bit into it, I was not expecting a big piece of salmon and I loved the combination with the pickled ginger. It even comes with a packet of soy sauce, which I don’t think is needed.
I tried SO many pastries at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. I really wanted to love them and I just couldn’t. The croissant dough at Neighbor Bakehouse is definitely superior. Items at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse that I do not recommend:
- Matcha Croissant. How disappointing. I love green tea and this croissant has no green tea flavor. It’s dipped half in a white chocolate coating and so just tastes like waxy white chocolate.
- Apple Pie Pull-Apart. This is not a pull-apart, people. This is similar to a dense bread pudding. While I actually enjoyed the apple, cinnamon flavors (and raisins), I think the ginger pull-apart at Neighbor Bakehouse is better.
- Filled Donut. Bah, the fillings are good (again, they rock at that cream filling) but the donuts are oily and dense.
- Cornflake Cookie. This is advertised as a brown butter toffee, cornflake cereal cookie. There is no brown butter taste and not enough toffee. The brown butter cookies at Bi-Rite are better.
b. patisserie (2821 California St.) has been on my list forever because I’ve been dying to try their kouign amann. Kouign amann is a pastry originally hailing from Brittany. It’s basically a caramelized croissant with a beautiful sugar crust on top. I totally understand the hype at b. patisserie. When I cut into the kouign amann, it could hear the crunch of all the crispy flakiness. Even cut, I could see layers upon layers of beautiful buttery goodness. The sugar crust on top adds a perfect amount of sweetness. It is worth going to b. patisserie just for the kouign amann. The only other item that I tried was the passionfruit poppyseed madeleine, which I also really enjoyed. Their tarts look absolutely divine and I’ll definitely have to make another trip soon!
I only go home back to the Bay Area once a year for Christmas. This year, I was home for longer and made sure to take full advantage of all the culinary masterpieces that the Bay Area has to offer. Here are the highlights!
Craftsman and Wolves opened in San Francisco after I left the city. I’ve been dying to try their Rebel Within muffin for over two years. This beautiful savory muffin has asiago and parmesan cheese, scallions, crème fraiche and sausage mixed into the batter. But the true pièce de résistance is the soft-boiled egg inside. When you cut it open, the yolk oozes out and helps create a sauce to dip your muffin in. Craftsman and Wolves also served their Rebel Within with a small container of homemade Tabasco salt. Save that baby to sprinkle on other foods in your life. While it’s $8 for a muffin, it’s definitely worth it. Make sure to go early because they often sell out before noon! The woman in front of me in line bought 9 muffins to go. That’s how good they are.
I love ramen. While there’s ramen in Shanghai, I just don’t think it compares to what I can get at home. My friend took me to Ramen Izakaya Goku in the Mission. Since this was technically “2nd dinner” (we had appetizers at a Christmas party), I wasn’t starving so I decided to order the garlic clam ramen. I don’t often see clam ramen on the menu and this did not disappoint. Instead of the rich, fatty tonkotsu broth, this was a much lighter, but still tasty soup. I really liked how bountiful and fresh the clams were too. I love corn in my ramen so I paid a little extra for it, but I should have gotten another egg. It’s a perfect ramen egg– marinated and soft-boiled.
The only lobster roll that I can find in Shanghai is at Goga. While it hits the spot, it’s definitely not the best lobster roll that I’ve ever had in life. In the basement of the Westfield Mall in SF is Lobster Me. They have several different styles, but I decided to go for the Connecticut: warm lobster tossed with melted butter and chives. It was kind of annoying that you can’t order the lobster roll as a standalone. You have to order with chips and cole slaw (I upgraded the chips to fries). The sandwich was really delicious and I liked that the bread was thick and buttered. The lobster was plentiful and not overcooked. It’s definitely on the smaller side and almost feels more like a “snack” than a meal. I easily could have eaten another sandwich.
Going home for the holidays was too wonderful. I was spoiled by warm weather (mid-60’s), good food, family and great friends. I wish I could have extended my trip longer, but in a blink of an eye, I was on a plane heading back to Shanghai.
I just wanted to share a few of the food highlights from the trip home. This was in addition to having prime rib for three straight meals in a row. We had two prime rib roasts for Christmas Eve dinner, which lead to an abundance of leftovers. I definitely did not complain.
Gochi is one of my favorite restaurants and they serve Japanese-fusion tapas. The original location is in Cupertino and there is always the longest line if you don’t have a reservation. They recently opened a second location in Mountain View. It seems a little bit easier to make a reservation since it’s newer.
They have some funky dishes on the menu like Japanese pizza and potato gratin, but my favorites are definitely the more traditional items like agedashi tofu and onigiri. The BEST dish is their clay pot rice and my personal fave is the unagi rice bowl. I love how you get the crispy parts of the rice all mixed in with eel, seaweed and veggies. I like to order a side of dashi broth because nothing tastes better than finishing a meal with a clean, light bowl of soup.
I miss San Francisco so much that it makes my heart aches. I’m sure that sounds overly melodramatic, but San Francisco is honestly my favorite city in the entire world. Since my time was limited, I made a point to have brunch at Foreign Cinema. Foreign Cinema has an awesome courtyard area and at night, they project old movies against a huge wall. While their dinner is slightly lackluster, they have one of the best brunches in the city.
At brunch, Foreign Cinema always has a daily selection of homemade pop tarts, which have fresh fruit fillings like pear and currant or mango and pineapple. The pop tarts are always divine. The maple-glazed bacon is also a must-order. I really enjoyed my dish, the “heavenly scramble,” which had fresh dungeness crab and brussels sprouts.
No trip home would have been complete without a visit to Bi-Rite Creamery, San Francisco’s premier ice cream store. My favorite flavors are always the salted caramel, ricanelas (cinnamon ice cream with snickerdoodle pieces) and balsamic strawberry (only available in the summer). With the warm weather, the line for Bi-Rite was extra long and wrapped around the building like three times. The wait is worth. Trust me on this one.
I know it’s a chain, but I love Boiling Crab. How can you really go wrong with huge bags filled with Cajun-spiced shrimp, crawfish, dungeness crab and corn on the cob? Wash it down with some ice tea and accompany it with some rice and fries– you’ve got one killer meal. I was really appreciative of all my friends who came out to see me (I think we had a table of 11). I feel like it’s a bonding experience when you grab a group of friends who have to roll up their sleeves and eat with their hands.
And now, I will end this post with a picture of my favorite sandwich in the entire world. Turkey sandwich on sourdough roll with extra veggies and spread from the Village Cheese House in Palo Alto. It was the first thing I wanted to eat as soon as I got off the plane.