Friday, February 24, 2012

Eating out in San Francisco, Part 2

The Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, CA a...
Cross the Golden Gate Bridge to visit Sausalito and Tiburon.

San Francisco has too many restaurants -- more than 3,000, according to one estimate -- and I had too little time to try them.

But with my friend Jack at the wheel, we roamed far and wide, visiting restaurants or bars in Burlingame, Daly City, Corte Madera, Santa Cruz, Roseville and Carmel.

We wanted to sample the Vietnamese fare at The Slanted Door, the soup dumplings at Shanghai Dumpling King; and the sauteed calamari at Little Henry's, an Asian-owned Italian-American place, but we never quite got to eat in these city restaurants.

We watched "Check, Please! Bay Area" on public television and mentally listed a bunch of restaurants recommended by residents, but we couldn't agree on going to any of them. 

On the day before I left, I especially wanted to try one of the seafood places we saw on the program, Nettie's Crab Shack on Union Street, but I was too full from a large breakfast, and we planned to cook dinner at home.

I suggested Chez Panisse, the expensive Berkeley restaurant that pioneered seasonal, local and organic cooking, but Jack and his wife, my cousin Rina, had tried it a few months ago. They liked the food, but didn't think the service was attentive enough.

So, my week of eating out in and around San Francisco was informal. We shopped for food and usually prepared breakfast, and a few dinners, at home, focusing on egg-white omelets with smoked wild salmon or fresh fish and vegetables.

And I mostly looked to Jack and Rina to suggest inexpensive places where we could eat well without busting the bank.

Greek omelet

Jack picked me up at the airport on Feb. 13 and drove to one of his favorites, Crepevine Restaurant in nearby Burlingame, where I had a tasty Greek omelet stuffed with lots of feta cheese and spinach, plus potatoes and coffee ($9.25).

Noodle soup

For lunch the next day, we stopped at Kevin's Noodle House in Daly City for a steaming bowl of Vietnamese seafood noodle soup with shrimp, imitation crab and squid. Garnishes were fresh bean sprouts, fresh cilantro and lime wedges.

We ordered the medium bowl for $5.95 and were stuffed. A small bowl is $4.95.

Fish tacos

On Feb. 15, we drove down to the picturesque city of Santa Cruz, stopping at a taqueira for a pair of delicious though messy fish tacos.

Taqueria Los Pericos (The Parrots) is what you'd call a joint, with a well-worn interior and counter service. But the tacos are made to order on a grill and the portions are generous.

Each of us ordered two fish tacos ($3.70 each). Each taco had two corn tortillas completely covered by diced tilapia, tomato, onion and cilantro. When I bit into one end, sauce squirted out of the other end.

Garnishes included lime wedges, whole radishes, two homemade salsas and sliced jalapeno peppers. Wonderful.

Vegetarian lunch

The next day, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to visit Sausalito and Tiburon, then at my suggestion stopped at a chain restaurant, P.F. Chang's China Bistro in Corte Madera, for a vegetarian lunch -- like the one I once had at P.F. Chang's in Hackensack.

In Corte Madera, the menu lists five vegetables under "SIDES" and we chose spicy green beans, stir-friend spinach with garlic and Sichuan-style asparagus (small $2.95, large $4.95). 

We ordered a large size of each, but asked the kitchen to stir fry all the vegetables with garlic to avoid the sauces, which I had found much too salty. We also asked for two bowls of brown rice, which we got for no charge. 

This was a delicious, healthy lunch for about $9.50 each, including tip and tax.

Coffee in Carmel

We also visited Darrell, one of Jack's friends, who lives in the hills above Monterey, then jumped into his Bentley and headed for the dog-friendly Cypress Inn in Carmel to meet his friends for cocktails or coffee.

The landmark hotel, owned by actress Doris Day, keeps a bowl of dog treats at the front desk, and shows her beautifully restored films on flat-screen TVs in the bar and other public spaces. 

Thai food

On Feb. 17, we crossed the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and drove about two hours to visit my niece Jenna, who lives in Roseville, where we decided to have lunch at a Thai place she and her boyfriend like.

We could have had an inexpensive lunch by choosing one of the $9.95 specials at Kuhn Suda Thai Cuisine, but each of us wanted to customize the dishes, leading to a mix-up in the kitchen, and we ended up spending more than $110 for five.

Jack and I shared a spicy seafood soup with tofu, a green papaya salad and another salad with tofu, instead of duck. But the server became confused when others wanted to substitute something else for shrimp, and our soup didn't have any seafood in it.

Fish for breakfast

On Feb. 19, we returned to Crepevine for breakfast, and I was surprised to learn a nicoise salad special was available so early in the day ($11.95).

Instead of tuna and anchovy, the salad was topped with melt-in-the-mouth slices of seared ahi tuna with tiny peppercorns, plus hard-boiled egg, boiled potato and green bean, all displayed on a large mound of greens and cabbage in a citrus dressing.

Even though I didn't eat the toasted French bread and butter served with the salad, I was full for a good part of the day.

Restaurant list

Crepevine Restaurant, 1310 Burlingame Ave., Burlingame, Calif.;
650-344-1310. Customers order at the counter.

Kevin's Noodle House, also known as Pho Huynh Hiep, 85 Southgate Ave.,
Daly City, Calif.; 650-992-3814.

Taqueria Los Pericos, 139 Water St., Santa Cruz, Calif.;
831-469-7685. Counter service.

P.F. Chang's China Bistro, 301 Corte Madera Town Center, Corte
Madera, Calif.; 415-413-9890.

The Cypress Inn, Lincoln Street and Seventh Avenue, Carmel-By-The-Sea,
Calif.; 800-443-7443. 

Travel notes

My visit to San Francisco was unplanned, but I couldn't resist an air-fare sale on Virgin America -- $119 each way. I was only able to get that low fare one way, so the round-trip total was $414.

I also had to go to John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, so the high Air Brook limo fare cut further into my savings, including an extra charge for a pick-up after 11 p.m. on my return this past Monday.

I had two pieces of carry on to avoid a checked luggage fee. Water and coffee or tea were free, but everything else was extra. 

I saw other passengers ordering food and wine from a touch screen in front of them, then swiping their credit cards just below the screen to pay for it. Moments later, a cabin attendant would deliver their order.

It was raining when I arrived, but I got see lots of sunshine, despite temperatures in the 50s and low 60s, and blustery conditions. I was glad I brought a car coat and a corduroy sports jacket to wear underneath it.

In San Francisco's Ingleside neighborhood, where I was staying, I went to the 24 Hour Fitness gym in the mornings, and stopped for coffee at Java on Ocean or The Fog Lifter Cafe.

Both places were filled with earnest young men and women working away on their laptops or texting on their smart phones. 

At the Fog Lifter, I watched a conversation among four customers. 

For more than 15 minutes, an attractive young woman spoke to an attractive young man who stood near her table, but never actually sat down, while another seated woman and another man took part.

At one point during the conversation, the first woman brought one of her hands up and thought she had found something in her nose, then proceeded to pick it unselfconsciously.

Got juice?

I rented the the all-electric Nissan Leaf sedan from Hertz for one day, and when I picked it up in a downtown San Francisco garage, the instruments said I had a 98-mile range.

But in the end, I got only 39 miles out of the car, and that required charging the batteries for 3 hours and 40 minutes in my cousin's garage. The charge added "12 miles" to the car's range.

To avoid draining the batteries, I didn't use the air conditioner or play the radio. Of course, the car is quiet, but its optimistic range added an anxiety level akin to running out of gasoline and being stranded far from a refill.

The Chevrolet Volt solves this problem with a gasoline-driven engine that recharges the batteries when you run out of juice.

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