Good Food Awards + 10 Top SF Eats

Last weekend, I had the privilege of accompanying the Olympic Provisions delegation to the first annual Good Food Awards, which were given out at a special evening ceremony at the magnificent San Francisco Ferry Building. Out of 800 nationwide entries, 80 awards were bestowed upon 71 artisan producers who best embodied the notion of melding responsible production and superior taste. Olympic Provisions won four awards, three in the charcuterie category and one for pickles.

Consequently, the group was in pretty good spirits.

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elianddavidThe ceremony was held upstairs, on the second floor of the Ferry Building, and everyone milled around beforehand sipping Two Rivers Cider and mingling with their fellow food luminaries from the far corners of the United States (although one chocolatier hailed from as far away as Madagascar). Along with the rest of the winners, Olympic Provisions salumist Elias Cairo and Portland chocolatier David Briggs of Xocolatl de Davíd, also a Good Food Award recipient for his Salted Caramel chocolate bar, had their picture taken by the foodarazzi under the official banner.

Good food advocate supreme Alice Waters gave the keynote address, then the coffee awards were doled out–Portland nominees included Coava, Heart and Public Domain roasters, with the latter winning an award for their Kona “Cloud Forest” coffee. Next up were the Charcuterie awards, introduced by sausage king Bruce Aidells. Olympic Provisions did Portland proud, winning medals for their Saucisson d’Arles and Loukanika cured meats, and their Pork Liver Mousse. They also won in the Pickles category for their spicy Pickled Corno di Toro Peppers.

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After the ceremony, we all ran downstairs (literally, as we’d worked up quite a fierce hunger for charcuterie, cheese, pickles, preserves and chocolate), where the Ferry Building had been transformed into a tasting mecca. The building was lined with tables filled with tasting plates that paired winning products by region (North, South, Central), with a lineup of the winning beers and coffees set up at either end.

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It was a wonderful night, filled with good food and the good people who make it. I hope to see a lot more Portland establishments participating next year!

Now, moving on. The awards were lovely, but when they were over, the weekend was still young and there was eating to be done. Here are 10 of our favorite San Francisco eats and food finds.

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Plow
1299 18th St. San Francisco
415.821.7569
www.eatatplow.com
Tue-Fri 7am-2pm, Sat-Sun 8am-2pm

Driving up the hill, scanning the horizon for Plow, it sort of just appeared on the corner of 18th & Texas in Potrero Hill, its bright yellow door a beacon for us hungry brunchers. Inside, we found a small, pretty dining room packed with tables made from salvaged French oak barrels, and a marble bar overlooking the compact kitchen, which turns out Meyer lemon ricotta pancakes and Chicken Tinga from early morning til mid-afternoon every day of the week. We opted for lunch fare, sampling the olive oil-poached albacore tuna sandwich–layered with a soft-boiled egg and powerfully pungent boquerones on a soft Acme bun. Since we’d pigged out at breakfast and salad makes us feel virtuous, we also ordered the winter squash salad, the cold sweet caramelized squash hiding amidst a jumble of fresh arugula blanketed with snowy shavings of ricotta salata. The kitchen was out of camellia blossoms iced tea, so we substituted the housemade blood orange lemonade. Tart, just sweet enough, and a most startling shade of pink, it was easily one of the best -ades I’ve ever had.

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Poco Dulce
2419 Third St.
415.255.1443
www.pocodolce.com
Mon-Fri 9am-5pm

‘Tis true that the Dogpatch–a scrappy little nine-square-block stretch of San Francisco’s eastern waterfront–isn’t the most scenic of neighborhoods, but it’s got a few very cute streets in amongst the industrial whatnot, and it’s home to gems like Piccino Cafe, Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous, and Poco Dulce, which specializes in sea salt-kissed small batch chocolates and toffees. Their “tasting room” is essentially the front few feet of their warehouse-y production space, but you’re welcome to step inside during business hours and instantly, a friendly staffer comes over to inundate you with tastes of their excellent toffees (we loved the espresso, chile, and popcorn), chocolate tiles (burnt caramel is divine), and new line of bittersweet chocolate bars, which happen to be vegan. If you don’t fancy making the trek to no man’s land, find Poco Dulce products at a variety of your favorite stores around the city, like Bi-Rite Market, Rainbow Grocery, and the dazzling Miette mothership in Hayes Valley.

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Restaurant Gary Danko
800 North Point St.
415.749.2060
www.garydanko.com
Nightly 5:30-10pm

Weirdly enough, in all my years of trying to shoehorn the entire edible contents of the Bay Area into my gaping maw, I’d never eaten at Restaurant Gary Danko before this weekend. It’s a venerable institution, nearly 12 years old, so I suppose I was always chasing something newer and flashier. Gary Danko was our last stop of the day, we had a 10 pm reservation, and based on our Portland experiences, we expected the place to be on the decline for the evening. Au contraire, we had to wait in line to be checked in, then we barely squeezed into the last two seats at the bar to wait for our table. Once seated, our three-course tasting menu was expertly paced, and felt terribly decadent–glazed oysters with Osetra caviar and lobster and rock shrimp risotto to start, juniper-crusted venison with chestnut spätzle and roast Maine lobster with chanterelles following, and a flawless cheese plate and array of sweet somethings to finish. Everything was spot-on, and our sommelier, who just happened to be from Portland, sent out a few surprise wine pairings that bowled us over. But while the food and wine were superb, the service was just as memorable–everyone was incredibly warm, friendly, and informative, from the moment they opened the door for us to when they tucked us into a cab at around 12:30am.

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romolopimms15 Romolo
15 Romolo Place
415.398.1359
www.15romolo.com
Daily 5pm-2am

Once upon a time, when I was young and very, very thirsty, I could put back quite a few cocktails at 15 Romolo, a roomy (well, until around 10pm when it becomes squashy), fashionably well-worn bar hidden half way up Romolo Place in North Beach. These days I’m old and less inclined to drink enough that running races barefoot up North Beach alleyways with 45-degree inclines seems not only a good idea, but fun. That said, I still managed to imbibe three of the positively divine cucumber and ginger Pimm’s Cups at 15 Romolo during our pre-dinner “drink” hour, which I soaked up with an order of their Moroccan-spiced fried cauliflower, a treatment that elevated this wallflower of a vegetable to leading leafy status. If you’ve got a weakness for Pimm’s Cups, beware 15 Romolo’s happy hour, when they’re discounted–you might need a few orders of fried cauliflower to soak up the ensuing Pimm’s Cup Fest.

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Boulette’s Larder
1 Ferry Building # 48
415.399.1155
www.bouletteslarder.com

If you love a good menu, I highly suggest popping into Boulette’s Larder when you’re in the Ferry Building, for a fix of Really Great Menu. Beignets with cardamom sugar, poached eggs with brown beans and ricotta salata, salsa verde braised chicken legs, sauteéd California black cod and local Dungeness crab cakes, sparkling blood orange and mandarin presses–it’s enough to drive you mad with desire just reading it. But this visit I was just coming off a large lunch, craving something small and sweet, and Boulette’s cookie case sang a Siren’s call. Exquisite bright green pistachio macaroons so chewy and bright with flavor they almost seem like a figment of your imagination when they disappear, crisp, buttery brown sugar and cashew shortbread, and perhaps my favorite–a melt-in-your-mouth quince jam thumbprint.

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Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant
1 Ferry Building # 23
415.391.9400
www.fpwm.com

Most everyone’s done time in the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant wine bar, a highly desirable place to while away a lazy foggy afternoon in San Francisco. Actually, I’ve forsaken some pretty fantastic sunny afternoons for a few hours at a table here too. Their flawlessly-curated wine list is filled with 2-oz tastes that seem so inconsequential it wouldn’t hurt to order another one, or three, or six, and their menu includes my all-time favorite feast–a half round of nearby Cowgirl Creamery‘s signature Mt. Tam triple cream with a bit of chutney and a half of an Acme epi loaf, and a plate of nearby Boccalone‘s most popular cured meats and cold cuts. It’s the best, if not only, reason to spend a gloriously sunny San Francisco afternoon in January inside.

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Cotogna
490 Pacific St.
415.775.8508
www.cotognasf.com

The first time I ate at Quince, Cotogna‘s big sister restaurant, it was still on Octavia Street and I was still in my initial chefs-are-gods phase, and in my mind, Chef Michael Tusk hailed from Mount Olympus. He stopped by our table to inquire as to how the meal was, and I couldn’t really speak, so I mumbled something about the pork and smiled foolishly while he enthused about how he picked up his whole hogs from his alma mater, Chez Panisse, and broke them down at the restaurant. (This was before breaking down your own hog seemed like no big deal.) Then he gave me his card and said I could come observe in the kitchen anytime, and I nearly slid under the table. I still have the card. Anyway, I never forgot that meal, and I won’t forget the lunch I had in the airy sunbeam-stitched dining room of new Cotogna either–a silky clump of burrata nestled in Annabelle’s chicories with pomegranate seeds, homemade tagliolini with fresh Dungeness crab, a dish of sweet heirloom carrots roasted with anise and honey harvested from rooftop-dwelling bees. It was simple and blissful, just like a very good meal–and memory–should be.

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Humphry Slocombe
2790 Harrison St.
415.550.6971
www.humphryslocombe.com
Daily 12-9pm

Cruise dessert menus from the city’s best restaurants, and you’ll come across more than a few Humphry Slocombe ice creams, not surprising considering Chef/Owner Jake Godby paid his kitchen dues in San Francisco’s finest eateries, then left to start his own ice creamery, turning out flavors like Honey Thyme, White Miso Pear, Thai Chili Lime Sorbet, Cinnamon Brittle, and Secret Breakfast (bourbon and toasted cornflakes). His quirky shop embraces a mounted two-headed calf as mascot, sells t-shirts that depict a fallen x-eyed ice cream cone with the caption “Lick That,” and has a Twitter bio that reads “Ice Cream With Attitude,” which explains tweets like, “Our Lemon Buttermilk Sherbet has arrived – fresh squeezed lemons, Straus Organic Buttermilk & lemon zest! Pucker up b*tches.” We wandered in and the first thing we spotted was the daily sundae special: a Hot Toddy Sundae–Glenlivet ice cream, honey lemon clove caramel sauce, and candied lemon peel. So…we puckered up, and then we licked that.

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La Taqueria
2889 Mission St. San Francisco
415.285.7117

It’s not like my obsession with tacos dissipates when I travel to a new city, if anything it gets worse. Fortunately, our forthcoming cab driver, who told us all sorts of interesting things, like how his friend works for famous San Francisco resident Danielle Steele (but hasn’t read any of her books) and where he likes to go dancing (Little Baobab), also shared where his favorite tacos in the city are (La Taqueria). With its festive facade and no-nonsense service, La Taqueria is the casual Mexican dining experience we largely lack here in Stumptown. Sweating cans of icy cold Tecate, extra limes, and red plastic baskets of homemade tortilla-wrapped tacos filled with pico de gallo, pinto beans, and terrifically tender carne asada–if only we could have beamed La Taqueria back to Portland.

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Limon Rotisserie
1001 South Van Ness Ave.
415.821.2134
www.limonrotisserie.com

I try not to let a visit to the Mission District pass without a stop at Limón Rotisserie, because there are few things in life that smell or taste as good as rotisserie chicken, and this casual sidekick to respected Limón Peruvian restaurant never disappoints either sense. Once I asked the server what was in the marinade, and he looked nervous and swept his eyes evasively from side to side, muttering something about secrets and garlic and lime and hurrying off. I can respect that, a secret marinade’s a secret marinade. And anyway, it’s not like I could ever reproduce this chicken at home, this incredibly tender, juicy, long-marinated, slow-roasted whole chicken with impossibly rich, crispy golden skin, aka Peru’s legendary Pollo a la Brasa. A half chicken, served with two Peruvian sides (I generally opt for the vegetales salteados and one of the fries–yuca, sweet potato, or papas fritas) will run you $9.95, an absolute steal, especially considering the free sensory titillation.