We were experiencing the typical holiday travel horror of missing our connection in San Francisco and being told that the next available confirmed seats would be two days later. They kindly offered to let us fly standby the following day, but after trying that once and seeing the number of stressed passengers, we decided to punt, take the confirmed seats two days later and make the best of San Francisco. Miraculously, we were able to get hotel reservations at the downtown Hilton for $100/night and get a late lunch reservation at Zuni Café on Saturday. Our luck isn’t all bad.
We spent Saturday morning the way we spend every Saturday morning when we’re in San Francisco - at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. We make it a point to visit farmer’s markets in every city we visit and this one is the best we have ever experienced, by far. Our first stop was Rancho Gordo – a grower and purveyor of heirloom beans. We picked up 5 different varieties of beans, mostly new to us, and Matt bought me their new cookbook. We proceeded to drool over the cheeses, vegetables, sausages, etc. while soaking in the sun. We also picked up 1 lb of wheatberries from Massa Organics. We have never cooked wheatberries, but are huge fans of farro, a grain similar in size and texture.
On to Zuni… I have been excited to visit Zuni since Matt bought me The Zuni Café Cookbook about 4-5 years ago for my birthday. We haven’t been able to get a reservation on our last few trips to San Francisco, but were somehow able to get a reservation on a weekend less than a week before Christmas. The karma gods must have been happy with us for not pitching a fit when we were told that we wouldn’t be able to get to Philly for 2 days.
Although it didn’t feel as sacred as entering Chez Panisse, Zuni occupies a unique space and feels almost Parisian. It is in a jewel-like flatiron building with lots of interesting dining spaces. Matt cleverly remarked that several of the tables were in the shape of home plate. The bread is a thick, dark crusted sour dough that is perfect with the European style butter they serve with it. I would have been happy with that and a glass of wine. Instead, I ordered the infamous Zuni Caesar as a first plate. The Zuni Caesar is served with a creamy, anchovy Caesar dressing. This is probably considered blasphemy, but I prefer a Caesar dressing that is more lemony, garlicky, oily, with lots of Parmesan. (My all time favorite can be had at Mac’s in Eugene. Get their half poulet grill with a side caesar.) Despite my preference, it was very good, and beautifully presented.
I broke my informal rule of ordering dishes that consist of local ingredients and ordered braised Nantucket Bay scallops with cannellini beans, fennel, nicoise olives and Meyer lemon as a main dish. The scallops were perfectly carmelized and complimented by the beans, fennel, olives, and broth. Matt also let me try his guinea hen that was cooked in the wood fired brick oven. A bite of that and the accompanying mesquite grilled radicchio made us think more seriously about building an outdoor wood oven and grill.
We shared the chocolate pot de crème for dessert, creamy and not too sweet. Although not bargain basement prices, I was surprised by the relatively low prices for such high quality, well prepared food. Before tip, our entire meal came to $98. This included 2 glasses of wine each, a first dish to share, our main dishes, and a shared dessert, plus the 4% health surcharge (to support San Francisco’s universal health care program).
We pressed our good food luck and went to Nopa for a late dinner. Their food is also incredible, but I recommend going to Zuni and Nopa on different days. Our bellies were full, so we couldn’t properly appreciate Nopa’s food. We did, however, appreciate their drinks. Their drinks are new takes on classics and unlike most new fangled cocktails, do a good job of palate cleansing instead of coating it in sugar. I had a Sherry Shrub – a fino sherry with housemade huckleberry shrub and Matt had the Pirata – a tequila served with blackberry liqueur, bitters, and mint. I had never heard of a shrub before my Master Food Preservers class 2 weeks ago and was intrigued then. (I am anxious to do more research, but some initial investigation indicates that it appears to be an acidic fruit cocktail from the Colonial Days.)
All in all, we made the best of being stuck in San Francisco for 36 hours. We are now safely in Pennsylvania, enjoying family.