West Coast Rejuventation

[by Naveen]

With just under three days to explore as much of the Bay Area culinary zeitgeist as possible, I started with Heidi Swanson's list of San Francisco Favorites, combined with recommendations from friends and a good dose of serendipity.

Spice Kit: I followed Heidi's advice to check out the recent issues of Tablehopper for inspiration. I picked this “chef-driven Asian street food” restaurant for my first meal, based on a note in the June 29th edition. The owners, Wilfred Pacio and Fred Tang, alumni of the French Laundry, Per Se, and The Dining Room at the SF Ritz-Carlton, lit up the interwebs with their application of "Farm Fresh ingredients" and "techniques that Frenchmen would love" and now I can better appreciate the thrill of discovery felt by the bloggers.

Nopalito: After following the linecook blog for several months and hearing rave reviews from John, I knew that I had to go to either here or Nopa. The menu combined traditional Mexican cooking with "local, organic, and sustainable" ingredients. I really want to visit one of Rick Bayless' Chicago restaurants now, as well as make an eventual trip to Mexico (perhaps with Mike as tour guide).

Burma Superstar: One of my high school friends and Heidi both recommended this wildly-popular venue. Despite calling in at 8:30 pm, we weren't seated until 10:45. It was totally worth the wait to experience this unique fusion of Southeast Asian flavors. Combined with John's trip to Thailand, the experience reminded me that I need to return to that part of the world.

Dosa: Another one of Heidi Swanson's recommendations. The atmosphere was totally different than the Little India restaurants and hawker center stalls in Singapore, but I enjoyed the food just as much, especially since I got to introduce one of my friends to this South Indian specialty.

The Plant Organic Cafe: Thanks to the Yelp app on my new smartphone, I found this amazing new restaurant at the Ferry Building. It shattered my negative pre-conceptions of pizza, showcased some amazing locally-grown vegetables, and ended with a great contrast between the molten chocolate cake and vegan blackberry cheesecake desserts. After months of resisting, I am glad that I finally decided to upgrade my Motorola RAZR (it still makes a nice alarm clock, though).

There is still plenty left for future visits. Top on my list are Gracias Madre (vegan Mexican), Aziza (Michelin-star Moroccan), and Coi (sadly, closed for renovations during my visit), but I'm sure there are dozens of others that I have yet to discover. Besides the restaurants mentioned here, I also visited the Farmers' Markets, grocery stores, and ice cream shops, which were equally inspiring. As you can tell from my summaries, this trip renewed my interest to travel the world. My last memory of the trip is gazing at models of Shanghia sky-scrapers, as part of an SF MoMA exhibit at the SFO airport, which I hope is a case of foreshadowing.

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