Monday, April 18, 2011

Letter from Linguino (3): Guest Post from San Francisco

A Foodie's Stroll Down Union Street

My dear Antoinette -

My memories of my week's sojourn in SF have faded a bit, but my tastebuds seem to be having no trouble remembering what they experienced there. On Sunday afternoon, we took a stroll down Union Street, where our first stop was Tartine's Bakery and Cafe. Tartine's is located at Union and Guerrero Streets, and is always crowded, according to my SF friends. It won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2008 and has been among the nominees just about every other year in this decade. The cakes and tarts all looked incredibly tempting, but we were hungry and, with some difficulty passed up the sweets.

People also line up here in the late afternoon for a loaf of their legendary bread, which was fortunately just coming out of the oven when we stopped in. So, in addition to the delicious grilled Idiazabal goat cheese and membrillo sandwich we ordered to go, we took home a warm bouley of country bread, which we promptly deposited in the trunk of the car so that we would not be tempted to eat it all before we got it home. The yeasty aroma greeted us later when we all piled in, and probably tortured the poor dog, Toby, who patiently waited in the car while we made our rounds. Fortunately, too, the sandwich we ordered was made on the same bread, so we didn't have to feel too deprived. It was the perfect combination of savory goat cheese and sweet quince paste on a carbohydrate-lover's dream: a slab of the most wonderful, warm, chewy peasant bread with the most nutty, perfectly-baked crust you could ever ask for. If only lunch could be like this every day!

Turns out that it was just as well we didn't pig out on Tartine's pastries, because having room for dessert prompted us to stop in at a new corner shop at 2201 Union St. called "Pacific Puffs", that sells nothing but cream puffs, a niche which San Franciscans probably didn't realize existed until this shop opened last Fall. Two brothers, escapees from lucrative but soul-crushing jobs on Wall Street, opened this bright new blue-and-white tiled shop, using their mother's cream puff recipe, and are making a go of it. One bite of the heavenly cream-filled, chocolate-covered delights and we were hooked! The custard was rich and smooth, the pastry like a perfectly done popover, and the chocolate just the right bittersweet flavor to compliment the rest. We started with the basic vanilla custard, but the sweet almond flavor or the amaretto cream made our eyes pop. Oh, my! I had to buy two more to take home for later!

Next stop was Le Marcel, a doggie bakery where I had to personally check out the goodies that Toby sent to my dog, Marmalade, as a holiday present this year. You have to see these confections to believe them. The cookies and pastries look so appetizing and human that we had to grab a black and white cookie out of grandpa Leroy's hand when they arrived to stop him from eating one. They have names like "Terriermisu", "Border Collie Bliss", "Peanut Mutter Cookie", and "Beagle Bagel", and are made of wholesome ingredients that most of the world's human population can only dream off. Again, we couldn't resist taking a pound of assorted cookies home for Marmalade and friends.

By this time, we needed another little pick-me-up, and just happened to be passing by CocoaBella  at 2102 Union St., one of SF's many artisanal chocolate shops that sells a dazzling variety of gourmet chocolates. CocoaBella is also known for its exotic hot chocolates, which sounded like just the thing on a chilly afternoon. Ordering hot chocolate at CocoaBella is a two-step process, in which you first pick the kind of chocolate you want - milk, dark, bittersweet, or white - and then choose what flavor you want in it, and your hot chocolate is then made-to-order. There is everything from peanut butter to mint, hazelnut, raspberry, caramel, cinnamon, and hot pepper. I was feeling a little overwhelmed, as was my blood-sugar, so ended up with a delicious mochacchino, half cappuccino and half hot chocolate, which we shared, by-passing the jalapeno hot chocolate and other chocolate temptations for another time.

Again, it was good we did, because this left room for one last treat: a scoop of Bi-Rite ice cream, arguably the best in the city. The Bi-Rite Creamery and Bake Shop is located just around the corner from the Bi-Rite Market (a great place for foodies like us to shop, by the way) on 18th and Dolores. The Creamery makes small batches of hand-crafted ice creams and sorbets, using local, organic ingredients, including Straus Family Dairy milk - which is milk from grass-fed cows. I had the salted caramel on a sugar cone, mostly because this is the flavor that my friends had been raving about since we didn't have a chance to go last year when I visited. They apparently often drive the 20 minutes from their house in Diamond Heights to wait another 20-30 minutes on the Bi-Rite line that on balmy nights stretches around the block just for a scoop of their salted caramel ice cream - and one lick told me why. The sweet, creamy caramel flavor hits you first, but then the salt kicks in and sends you over the moon! Good thing I don't live in SF, or I would be there every night! Mmmmm! I can taste it now!

Your friend and correspondent,


Tartine Bakery on Urbanspoon

Pacific Puffs  on Urbanspoon

Bi-Rite Creamery and Bake Shop on Urbanspoon

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