SF, day 1

french cooking, japanese cooking, reviews, travel and musings

Let me tell you, house hunting is a marathon event. It can really wear you down, especially when you have to walk everywhere (think hills in San Francisco). So, a girl’s gotta keep up her energy by eating well!

After a late flight into SFO and a good night’s sleep, I started the day off with a breakfast run to Whole Foods. Mr.S grabbed a flaky croissant and a danish. Me, I like to start my days with a strong, extra-hot, cappuccino. I also picked out a pot of St. Benoît honey yogurt, which turned out to be somewhat of a let-down, some locally made cranberry-almond granola, and a tub of fresh fruit. And it’s off we went to go a-huntin’.

considered a food court at all, but more of a frickin’ awesome group of really high-qualityFamished by lunchtime, we stopped in at the Westfield Mall Food Court, which can’t really be foodstuffs stalls. After a lengthy stroll through displays of crepes, noodle bowls, fresh sushi, and the always enticing Bristol Farms, we settled on Mr. Hana for rice bowls. Mr.S had the beef bowl and I ordered the spicy tuna bowl. We both opted for the brown rice.

The portions were huge, and everything looked fresh and really good at this point since I was famished. My spicy tuna was wonderfully spicy, but perhaps a bit too processed. The texture was mushier than I would have liked. It came with many sides- seaweed salad, pickled ginger, avocado, marinated cucumbers, nori, and daikon sprouts. (It very much reminded me of bibim bap.)

I wolfed everything down quickly, but in between bites, I do remember it tasting pretty awesome. Everything was fresh, crunchy (if it had to be), and flavorful. Mr.S’s beef bowl came with a generous side of stir fried shredded cabbage and carrots, which was overly greasy, but he really enjoyed the wokked beef. The prices were slightly on the high end, with his being $10 and mine $12. There were probably better food court deals out there, but we were happy with what we got (portions and taste).

Mr. Hana’s menu also includes teriyaki chicken, unagi, and tempura bowls, a large serving of udon soup with thick noodles, nori, fish cake and fried tofu ($7.25), a poke tuna bowl with all the fixings ($12.95), and small plates of edamame ($3.49), chicken gyoza ($3.99), and miso soup ($1.50).

After lunch, we went right into dinner-planning mode. Always the OpenTable enthusiast, Mr.S made a quick reservation for us at Absinthe, a popular French brasserie in Hayes Valley, who serves up a knock-out brunch menu on weekends.

The interior was beautifully dark and mysterious, and reminded me of a sexier version of Petit Louis (and possibly slightly more promiscuous). It was like dining in old Paris, with all that gaiety and mirth, with whispers of the Moulin Rouge, and accented by upscale decor, and a very impressive looking oyster bar. I don’t know if that paints the picture for you, but it surely made me want to break into some pain de campagne and salted butter. Which we got, along with an order of the pommes frites, served in a cone with a trio of Dijon mustard, malt vinegar, and rouille (a saffron-garlic mayonnaise dip). Very tasty, but it made me long terribly for the duck fat fries at Salt, with my favorite black truffle aioli. SIGH. (I must stop comparing everything to Baltimore!)

True to its name, there were 3 kinds of Absinthe on the drink menu, but I opted out for some champagne, as I was in no mood for the licorice-y “green-eyed monster” that evening. There was also an impressive selection of traditional cocktails- Sazerac, Sidecar, French ’75, etc.

Mr.S raves about their French onion soup, but we were so satiated by the fries, we went right into the entrées. True, a table 3 down from us ordered the soup, and we could smell the pungent, melted Gruyère from where we were sitting. I ordered the grilled scallops that arrived on a bed of sauteed summer squash, cherry tomatoes, pea shoots, and sugar snap peas, flavored with nepitella, a fragrant oregano-like herb ($27). Amazingly fresh and bursting with summer flavors, I was in veggie-heaven. The scallops were also cooked just right, but there was a grittiness to their surface, like the sand hadn’t been properly rinsed off. The only glitch of the evening.

Mr.S always seems to order something that I prefer over my own plate… why is that? His pork confit (which was huge, by the way) was wonderfully smoky and tender, sitting atop a mound of creamed corn, bacon, watercress salad, and buttery fingerling potatoes ($24). The pork shoulder had been slow-cooked in, what else but duck fat, had a nice char to it, and was fork tender and just lovely. We both really enjoyed the creamy corn and bacon action; it was serious comfort food. Really, all I needed was a big bowl of that, I would have been a happy (and greasy) girl all night.

Dessert? Why not? Though there was an interesting looking coconut très leches cake, I was dead set on tasting the warm chocolate tart served with salted caramel sauce and peanut butter ice cream ($8). (That ice cream was definitely the hook.) The combination of all the flavors was rich, but not heavy. The bittersweet chocolate was nicely paired with the sweet and salty caramel and ice cream, finished with crunchy candied peanuts. I wanted a tall glass of milk to round that off.

I am already flagging Absinthe as a late-night snack bar for Mr.S and me. I can already picture us at the bar (probably the best seat in the house), sipping on a couple of Ginger Rogers, snacking on spicy fried chickpeas, the Croque-Monsieur, and some brebis. And maybe throw in there the Absinthe burger with some frites. The crowd is diverse; the service was good, but slowed down toward the end of the night, and my server was more than generous with my glass of champagne. Next time we go, I’ll definitely be having one of the many dishes with fried duck eggs (one of my favorite things to eat) and most likely that herbal tonic for which this intoxicating restaurant is named.

Mr. Hana on Urbanspoon

Absinthe on Urbanspoon

4 thoughts on “SF, day 1”

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