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San Francisco

Aug 12, 2011

San-fran-limanReflection of sunset on the Port of San Francisco

Prior to our visit, the first thing that crossed my mind about San Francisco used to be the only French song I know by heart, "San Francisco" by Maxime Le Forestier. Also among the songs I love singing in the shower, I was humming it on the plane too:

"Quand San Francisco s'embrume,
Quand San Francisco s'allume..."*

I was eager to breathe the remnants of the 70s spirit but instead, I got my share from a cheap tourist trap. Getting ripped off in a dependable-looking camera store adjacent to our hotel, left me feeling deceived and cheated from the first day on. Such a shame all other positive impressions were overshadowed by this feeling so low. Now, the first bell the name San Francisco rings in my head, is the face of the mean salesman, previously kind and almost pitiful, scolding me for asking my money back for the memory card I had bought a day earlier, by saying:"you don't pay the rent of this store!". (By the way, stay away from Powell Digital on Powell Street if you ever go to San Francisco!)

Then I think of my city, Istanbul. The city notorious with its tourist traps hidden in every corner which no tourist no matter how foxy can get away from. Despite all of its breathtaking wonders, I symphatize with visitors who leave Istanbul with a sense of bitterness, not amazement. This factor in mind, I took San Francisco to resemble Istanbul rather than any other American city, with all its chaos, bohemia and cosmopolitism.

Scavos1) Street cars predominantly occupied by tourists 2) Lunch at Scoma's in Fisherman's Wharf 3) Grilled salmon at Scoma's 4) Ice Cream in Norman's near Fisherman's Wharf, allegedly the best ice cream in town

After meeting my brother and his fiancée at our hotel's lobby, both warn out from a 5 hours flight and 3 hours of time difference, we headed towards Scoma's at Fisherman's Wharf, to launch our eating spree in San Francisco. My brother who is used to living in neat and tidy Washington DC, couldn't seem to embrace San Francisco's newly encountered peculiarities. From his point of view, what they call Bohemian is its dirty streets, cosmopolitism is mere chaos and crowdedness. We got all surprised in the face of the abundance of homeless, drunks and beggars to tell the truth.

Pier 39 Fish, chips and beer at the lively Port 39 and a promenading seagull

A16

I was looking forward to going to A16, to grab a bite of what some people describe as the best pizzas in the world. Although I knew beforehand that this title was way too ambitious for a pizzeria outside of Italy, I still was expecting its pizzas to be challenging to those of La Gatta Mangiona I recently visited in Italy and keep visiting in my dreams, literally. But before La Gatta Mangiona I must say my standards were already set rather high with our very own Miss Pizza in Istanbul.

A16 San Francisco 1)Entrance of A16 on Chestnut Street 2) Buratta, mozarella in cream, my favourite starter nowadays 3) Baby arugula salad with parmesan, straightforward but delicious 4) Salad preparations in the open kitchen

While we were getting ourselves comfortable at our reserved table at A16, Doğa barefacedly introduced me as a "famous food critic in Turkey" to our kind waitress. To my further embarrassment, our waitress looked enchanted and thrilled (or simply pretended to be so) and handed me one of their menus for the scrutiny of my so called "expert eye". I felt utterly guilty for not contradicting Doğa right from the beginning and for letting our waitress smile at me with extra care and kindness each time she placed a plate in front of me or removing one, in an effort to study the traces of my satisfaction.

Then came the part I was looking forward to and sadly the part I got even more uncomfortable: the arrival of our pizzas. Despite all the enthusiasm we welcomed the pizzas to our table with, the half of my pizza was all I could eat. I felt extremely bad for maybe causing our waitress to conclude that I was going to write a bad review for A16, if she ever believed or cared that I was a food critic.

A16 pizzas1) Pizza Funghi with too much funghi 2) A16's wood fired pizza oven 3) Pizza Funghi with prosciutto 4) White Pizza with mozarella and green olives: recommended

Although all our pizzas looked mouthwatering they were disappointingly soggy in their middle. If I weren't expecting the world's best pizzas, they would no doubt pass for good pizzas. Plus, my reference point for what constitutes a great pizza happened to be La Gatta Mangiona so my attitude could be nothing but picky. Yet, I was more than ready to butter up everything about A16, after reading and hearing great reviews about it and seeing the sumptuous pictures of crunchy pizzas on their web site. The mushroom pizza I had was topped with a generous amount of mushrooms but they were barely visible tastewise. The best one among the four kinds we ordered was surprisingly the one with mild green olives. Nevertheless, all the starters, the salads, the buratta and almond semifreddo with caramel as dessert were top notch.

A16tatli1) Dessert wines in A16: Graham's Tawny Port from Portugal and İtalian Passitos 2) Almond and caramel semifreddo: highly recommended

Have I mentioned before that Doğa has lost it with wine expertise? Consequently, we were lectured about wine in each and every meal and wondered in vein if we were going to survive Napa, the land of wine, where Doğa's wine enthusiasm would climate. In San Francisco he was more passionate about sweet wines and constantly complained how underrated and neglected they were. Therefore, he didn't even had the courtesy to ask us if we wanted dessert wine for dessert, simply ordered on our behalf, four glasses of various kinds he deemed worth tasting. This way, athough involuntarily, I learned to appreciate the richness of dessert wines and to enjoy them as dessert. I was a little disappointed upon hearing that the caramelized color and flavor of port wines is due to the brandy added, not to the diversity of the grapes. (An informatory note from the wine expert: Dessert wines come in two categories: natural sweet wines and fortified wines; those with added distilled beverage. Port wines fall into the first category whereas Passittos fall into the latter, meaning they are natural sweet wines, hence more appreciated by people like Gozde (meaning me)).

If I am describing my A16 experience as disappointment, I have no other choice to describe our evening at RN74 as nightmarish. A reputable gourmet acquaintance who recommended us the place, turned out not to have visited the place personally and instead concluded that the place must be good because he heard it had one of the widest selection of wines in the city. Yes the wine menu was as thick as an encyclopedia and the train station inspired decoration looked very hip. But from a one page menu, none of the four of us, each with different tastes could find anything to order. We ordered two mains and two entres to share which were all unimaginative and lousy samples of fine dining. We left without ordering dessert and without looking back. The vision of that bone marrow still haunts me time to time.

The Slanted Door

The Slanted Door
"Whatever you do, don't miss out the The Slanted Door" is what we heard from people who've set foot to San Francisco. This was where our high expectations concerning San Francisco dining were finally going to be answered. In contrast to the previous evening's dinner experience, it reminded us what good food was all about. According to a reputable theory of mine, one can tell the quality of food in a restaurant by the quality and originality of its cocktails. I usually ask for the best selling cocktail and if I like it, I will know everything else will be beautiful too. Slanted Door's Ginger Limeade was one of those cocktails you want to drink through the whole dinner, glass after glass. So The Slanted Door proved my theory just right.

The Slanted Door 1) Ginger Limeade: one can never have enough 2) Green papaya salad with pickled carrots, rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) and roasted peanuts 3) Baby bok choy with mini shiitake mushrooms 4) A stranger behind the door? Hardly.

Once you enter in restaurants like The Slanted Door, you can immediately tell that great food awaits you: the crowd of customers who are obviously gratified with what they are eating and lost in their conversations, the busyness in the open kitchen, the dedication and overwhelm with which all the employees are conducting their profession...These are all good signs. Since it was my first encounter with Vietnamese cuisine, I got to thinking whether it is the Vietnamese cuisine I fell in love with or The Slanted Door's presentation of it. How could everything taste so unique, fresh and mouthwatering? Even chicken which happens to be the least interesting dish, for it always tastes like "chicken", was a blast. Beef was beyond tender, vegetables that I tasted first in my life, like Vietnamese coriander, jicama, green papaya were beyond delicious. Even my brother who hadn't given up his sarcastic mood the whole time we were in San Francisco, loosened up finally.

The Slanted Door 1) Dessert wines which we tasted in Slanted Door: Donnafugato "ben rye" Passito 2007 and D'oliveiras Reserva Verdelho Madeira 1973 2) Estancia shaking beef: fillet mignon with water crest and red onions 3) Fried organic chicken with caramel, chillies, walnuts and cajun 4) Cotton candy as dessert

La Mar Cebicheria

If it weren't for Ann, who was guiding us in our tasting tour in Joseph Phelps vineyards in Napa, this Peruvian restaurant would remain undiscovered by us. During our small talk, I told her how I had enough of fine dining and pretentious food and that I would gladly eat at the Slanted Door again in the last night we were going to spend in San Francisco before we head home, she recommended La Mar Cebicheria. In a place like Istanbul where even Indian restaurants are barely surviving, no wonder that Peruvian food is out of reach. Seing this close chance to have a taste of Peruvian food, going back to San Francisco for one more night started to seem more appealing.

La Mar Cebicheria 1) La Mar on Port 1.5 2) Empanada with beef, tomatoes and red onions 3) Halibut chebiche with red onion, habanero, Peruvian corn and yam 4) Yummy banana crackers

Our first impression with La Mar Chebicheria was as promising as that of the Slanted Door: crowded tables full with happy customers, spacious area, busy open kitchen... The cocktails we ordered weren't very tasty but I somehow felt (and hoped) my theory was going to stumble. The menu had five different selections of Peruvian specialties: stir fries, cebiches (raw seafood marinated in traditional Peruvian sauce named "leche de tigre" (which has nothing to do with tigers, I asked), empanadas (deep fried pastries with fillings), salads made with Peruvian ingredients, anticuchos (meat and seafood on sticks) and causas which are mashed potatoes in the form of a cylinders topped with seafood.

la Mar Cebicheria 1) The Bar of La Mar 2) One of the few beef dishes: stir fried beef with potatoes and coriander 3) Japanese nori and avocado purée on whipped purple potatoes 4) Peruvian lady taking care of precious banana crackers

We tasted something from each. Empanadas and chebiches were things we were more or less familiar to, from Mexican or Spanish restaurants, stir fries from Chinese kitchen, antichuhos resembling our very own Turkish sish kebaps. But causas, a specialty only unique to Peru, were completely new to our pallette as well as to our eye, with its purple color. Doğa wasn't very impressed with them but I was; the only expectation I had was to eat something entirely different and that's exactly what we did.

San Francisco Botanik ParkıBreathing in the botanical garden of San Francisco...

It took us to eat in two great restaurants: one Vietnamese, one Peruvian to discover and appreciate what is really impressive about San Francisco. Behind all its chaos and disorder lied the beauty of what it's minorities bring: diversity, color and taste. Just like Istanbul...

Scoma's Restaurant (menu)
Pier 47 on Al Scoma Way
San Francisco, CA 94133
1 (415) 775 2601

A16 (menu)
2355 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
1 (415) 771 2216

The Slanted Door (menu)
1 Ferry Building #3
San Francisco, CA 94111
1 (415)861 8032

La Mar Chebicheria (menu)
pier 1 1/2
San francisco, CA 94111
1 (415) 397 8880

*When San Francisco was smoking, when San Francisco was burning...

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