I had this whole post written about my trip last week to San Francisco, about eating in an great food city while on an elimination diet. The post was about as exciting as it sounds, as in, I was more entertained reading Sky magazine for the third time during my second departure out of Phoenix last Thursday (the first departure had us halfway to Indianapolis, only to turn around and go back to Phoenix after a problem was discovered with hydraulics — but on the bright side, we didn’t crash into a ball of flames!)
What can I say. We ate really well — but in San Francisco, it seems that’s a given. It doesn’t take much to find amazing food, and it also doesn’t take begging to find foods that are gluten*- and dairy-free. We had the best vegan meal I’ve eaten — I didn’t know vegan food could be this good — at a place called Gracias Madres, in the Mission. We shared one of the most texturally interesting and uniquely flavorful salads I’ve ever enjoyed — a fermented green tea leaf salad — at Burma Superstar.
These finds were both courtesy of my friend Jen — Tour Guide Extraordinaire — who zipped us through the roller-coaster streets of San Francisco with the expertise and flair of a lifelong local (I would likely never trust myself behind the wheel in that city — cresting the top of one of the more famous descents, I could only grip the door handle and mutter an extemporaneous, protestant version of a hail mary — in addition, last I checked, technology has not yet provided a way to drive with your eyes squeezed tightly shut).
A thing I loved about eating in the city: we ate really well in just about every neighborhood. The Castro, Tenderloin, Mission, and Financial districts all had edibles to offer, and the prices were as varied as the menus. While we ate one overpriced (but delicious) breakfast, we stopped in for tacos and tamales at a food truck that left us full for under $5.
The start-to-finish star of the trip was a place called Frances, in the Castro district. The restaurant was booked for the night, and we had not reserved a table — but the website told me that seats at the bar were offered on a first-come, first-served basis. We jumped on a bus at 5:30 and headed south, searching for the unassuming, subtly-marked storefront on a residential street, nestled between townhouses. We happened upon the door along with another couple, and I stopped short of tackling them in the dark of the sidewalk out of fear they’d get our seats — a good thing, as getting arrested for assault is never a good idea, and it would have been useless, as there were four seats available at the bar. Within minutes of being seated, there were 8 people hovering in the entryway waiting for their turn.
Between the house wine — which is the best of that label I’ve had, custom-mixed at the restaurant, and costing us just $1 an ounce — the simple but charming atmosphere, our able and friendly server, and an exciting menu that was a list of choices for one night only, our evening at Frances was delightful. In retrospect I can hardly believe our luck at getting seated so quickly — and on a future trip I’d likely not risk it, and make reservations.
If you’d like to live vicariously, I kept the menu — splattered with our dinner and folded for the trip home in my purse — but I will highlight my favorite dish of the night, the baby kale & duck confit salad, with crisp shallots, medjool dates, and fennel agrodolce. The dates made the dish, and while it’s hard to go wrong with confit, the combination of textures was in perfect proportion. Tim’s favorite was the applewood smoked bacon beignets, served with maple chive creme fraiche. I couldn’t partake, as the beignets were gluten-laden — but in his opinion the maple creme fraiche was the star of that show.
It was our most expensive meal of the trip. But we walked out just $100 lighter — and for what we got, this seemed a steal (the entrees hover around $25, but in our usual fashion we only ordered one, and opted for two bouchées, two appetizers, and one dessert).
Each time I mentioned to friends or family that we were going to San Francisco, the reaction was something between excitement for us, and burning jealousy. And I get it now. It’s a city that never freezes, offers real-life amusement park thrills in the form of a drive across town, bears the iconic deco majesty of the Golden Gate bridge, offers a thrift-store-obsessed southern-midwesterner plenty to dig through (I squeezed in two trips to Goodwill stores), and offers good eats on every proverbial corner. There’s not much else I could ask of a destination.
Except maybe dairy, and wheat, and the ability to eat them both. I’ve got a date with pastry next time, San Fran.
* In case any of you are sticklers for details: I chose to “cheat” on my grain-free diet last week. I allowed myself grains such as rice and corn, but attempted to strictly avoid gluten, as it has proven to cause more acute symptoms than other grains.