Where to Eat in San Francisco (Updated)

Jun 2011: Or, a better title would be “Where to take Darina Allen, from Ireland, on a whirlwind tour of Restaurants in the Bay Area? Darina is famous in her native Ireland for teaching literally thousands of people how to cook in her Ballymaloe Cookery School in county Cork or through her many cookbooks, many television shows or through her many articles in magazines and newspapers. She has unbelievable energy and wants to spend every minute of her visit here learning about the food trends.

When she was here a few years ago, I took her to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. She promptly started a farmers market near her in county Cork and now, because of her, there are 160 farmers markets around Ireland. Not only that, but her Cooking School is on a 1000-acre organic farm where the students get the experience of feeding the chickens and milking the cows. And, you can even take a course called How to Cure a Pig in a Day. It really is a fantastic experience to visit Ballymaloe Cookery School to see the farm and better to take a short or long course where you can actually stay on the farm. To learn more go to www.cookingisfun.com.

So, where should I take Darina to see what’s new in food in San Francisco? What’s new is the street food being cooked by the young people in farmers markets, underground markets, and in the food trucks – to learn more see my last Newsletter (click here to read) if you haven’t already. What’s new in restaurants? Well, there is a host of new rather experimental restaurants that have opened this last year; mostly south of market. Some are really good and some are downright awful. But, here for you are my top choices:

NOPA and NOPALITO — Sunday evening early I took Darina early to Nopalito – the Seviche Verde de Pescato y Calamares is the freshest; the Quesadilla Roja con Chicharron (pork belly quesadillas) are to die for; and you can’t beat the Carnitas with freshly made Tortilla’s. We had Paletas (chocolate cinnamon popsickles) for dessert. Then, I showed her the kitchen of Nopa, where I love to sit at the counter watching the cooks and eating their outstanding food.

A16 — The next day, while I worked, Darina walked to Fillmore Street to shop for her grandchildren. She stopped off at OTC on Bush and then again at Delfina Pizza on California – both very fun and delicious. That night we ate almost everything on the menu at A16 from Swiss Chard to Pizza Bianco to Maccaronara with Ragu. The Almond Poundcake with Strawberries, Vanilla Crema, and Saba so good. And, of course, the carefully chosen wines are always outstanding. As Darina (from Ireland) left the restaurant, the members of the band U2 were coming in. When they found out that Darina was in town they called her to insist she come to their concert in Oakland the next day. After all, their wives had taken classes at Ballymaloe.

CHEZ PANISSE — After almost 40 years, Chez Panisse is still a great eating experience. The next evening Alice Waters arranged for a booksigning and dinner in Darina’s honor. The food was very special – we had Salmon Rillettes to start; followed by a Salad with Ballymaloe Cream Dressing; followed by homemade Ricotta Ravioli with English Peas; followed by Braised Beef Cheeks with Mustard Fruits and creamy Mashed Potatoes. The dessert was Fresh Raspberry Sorbet with a Compote of Red Berries. We had a glorious meal sitting upstairs as the sun was setting. Thank you, Alice, and congratulations on 40 years! Then, these two prematurely grey-haired cooking teachers with cool eyeglasses went off to the Oakland Coliseum for a fantastic U2 concert. Imagine Darina, coming all the way from Ireland to see U2 in Oakland— it was a blast!

FRANCES and COMMONWEALTH — the next day I drove Darina all over the Mission and Dog Patch to find what was new in food. I ended up showing her the kitchens of two of my favorite restaurants south of Market. Everyone in both Frances and Commonwealth is always welcoming and friendly. And, of course, we had to stop off at TARTINE for Cheese Gougeres and Morning Buns; and BI-RITE for Salted Caramel Ice Cream— all before sending Darina off on an airplane. Thank you, Darina for the fun!

Along the way we had tea and scones at Tante Marie’s Cooking School— pictured here. You can find my scone recipe on www.tantemarie.com/recipes. So, let me tell you now how to make a perfect cup of tea. First, pour boiling water into a teapot to warm it. Then, pour out the hot water, and put in a 4-cup teapot, four teaspoons of loose black tea – Assam, Darjeeling, or English Breakfast tea will do. Cover the pot with a tea cozy to keep it warm; and pour cups of tea after it has steeped for 5 minutes. You may offer lemon, milk, and/or sugar; however, real tea connoisseurs prefer it black.

You may want to serve tea at 4 or 4:30 in the afternoon and pass around plates of recently made little sandwiches— something like smoked salmon on brown bread or sliced cucumbers with mayonnaise on white bread. Of course, you can serve Scones with Devonshire cream or whipped cream and strawberry jam; or here, for you, are Darina’s recipe for Irish Soda Bread and quick and easy Raspberry Jam. This is what is called Afernoon Tea. It’s basically a light something to serve and eat between lunch and dinner. The fact that it is often called high tea in this country is erroneous— high tea in the UK is a later supper that might include things like cold sausage and hard boiled eggs. Either way, little French pastries don’t usually go well with tea because they are too sweet.

Both of these Recipes of the Month have been taken from FORGOTTEN SKILLS OF COOKING, “The Time-Honored Ways are the Best” Over 700 Recipes Show You the Way, by Darina Allen. So, if a trip to the wonderful Ballymaloe Cookery School in the middle of a 100-acre organic farm in Cork, Ireland, is not in your immediate future, do get this brand new cookbook – it is full of terrific information and beautiful pictures. I recommend getting it at Omnivore Books at the corner of Church St. and Cezar Chavez or on www.omnivorebooks.com. In the meantime, have fun cooking!