Day One in the Bay – San Francisco

View from a friend’s balcony of Lake Merritt in Oakland

This photo isn’t actually in San Francisco (it’s Lake Merritt), but it was a nice photo to start the post.

In search of ever more adventure (meaning craft beer, great food and unique neighborhoods), while in town for a conference I set out to explore the city by the Bay. What follows is the first in a series of posts around a trip to San Francisco. First, day, fresh from the airport, I hopped on the BART and found this gentleman sporting a Stone Brewing Co. sweatshirt and enjoying an Evil Twin by Heretic Brewing Co. Yes, on the BART!

Guy on the BART with Stone Brewing Co. sweatshirt and Evil Twin beer

As a result, I thought it appropriate to make my first visit in the city to a fine purveyor of locally made craft beer. And I was instantly re-routing myself to a tiny brewery and restaurant called 21st Amendment. Being the giver that I am, here’s a short snippet on the relationship of the actual 21st Amendment to craft beer. The train ride was uneventful after the beer exchange and the nice people on the phone at 21st Amendment told me to just come down a few blocks from the station and I’d find it no problem. Fast forward said few blocks—and the first of many hills over the next several days—and I made it to 21st amendment after the walk from Montgomery Street station ($8.25 from the airport, in case you’re planning). A quick seat and a menu later and my server is bringing out a flight of a few of their many beer options:

A flight of beers on my first stop in San Francisco

MCA Stout, Back in Black Dark IPA, Pumpkin Smunkin, Oktoberbest and Hell or High Watermelon Wheat. The MCA Stout was easily the best of the bunch, followed by the Oktoberfest. The rest could be missed, in my opinion.

The server was a young woman named Baxter and the host didn’t know what a tap list was (which made me wonder if I’d made the term up, seemed odd not to hear of it). The meat part of the burger (as distinguished from what they put on it) was tasty, though Niman Ranch is very hard to do wrong. In general, I’m glad I went, though Baxter wasn’t as engaging or as nice as the servers I see in San Diego. If you want to start a weekend morning well (and early), drop by Justin, Kiersten or Sharon at Snooze in Hillcrest on 5th. Seriously, if you like breakfast and good people you won’t regret it. Just go early (we shoot for 7-7:30) or be prepared for a long, long wait.

Back to the trip, we made a quick stop by a place called The Creamery in SoMa before heading out of the city. I know, technically a coffee shop is a place for, well, coffee. But it turns out they sold beer so I settled in with a Devil’s Canyon California Sunshine IPA. Again, not bad but not exactly a Hophenge or 30th Street, either. Still, a nice neighborhood to settle into for some great conversation. Seems perfectly appropriate for a coffee shop to have 6 handles and a bottle list. This IS the land of the free, right? Fast forward to the evening…

Should’ve listened to Chris Cadelago and went to Chef Jia

I have to own my irrational exuberance for House of Nanking. Several recommendations came from food loving friends by twitter, telephone and text. So I was ready. Got my taste buds and my camera phone all set, snapped a picture of the slightly odd entrance, and got ready to do some damage.

Quick aside. I’m not a yelp fan. Not predisposed against yelp, I just prefer recs from friends or people whose tastes I can verify in some way. That said, I’m trying to grow a little so I combined multiple direct recs with the over 800 reviews on Yelp. The upside of a good rec is that it saves you from wasting precious money (and at least equally precious time) having ordinary, boring or just plain bad meals. In a city of any size there is almost no reason to have a bad meal–so finding reliable recs, especially when away from home, is critical.

It was 8:15 on a Sunday with no reservation. Still, only a 10 minute wait and the host was friendly… in a non-communicative, almost brusque, hurry up and sit down kind of way. I’d heard good things, checked out the four square tips, and decided to take the first one…which was to let the owner order for me and go with it. Being the flexible, go with the flow kinda person I am, I jumped at the easy bit of extra adventure. First up, a crispy rice, shrimp dish to share.

We let the server order for us, so I didn’t get the name of this shrimp dish.

So far, so good. The shrimp was cooked properly, the crispy rice was an interesting twist and the slightly sweet accompanying flavors worked. Check. Then comes two orders of the sesame chicken dish with sweet potatoes and some pale green vegetable that was probably cucumber, but I didn’t bother to eat it to find out. The chicken was surprisingly food court-ish. I’m overstating a bit, though not much. A syrupy sweet dish with heavily glazed sweet potatoes wasn’t what I had in mind for “surprise us” but mediocre dishes are an adventure, too, right? I tried to resurrect the meal by ordering up some steamed pork dumplings. Not.so.much. I half wanted to look for a box from costco out back that they must’ve come from. Alas. I was well warned by a local writer to go next door to Chef Jia’s. Live and Learn. Any restaurant can have a bad night or put out an off dish, so I’m not saying skip House of Nanking, just making some observations. At least I can take solace in great company and conversation among friends. That’s what’s left when a hopeful meal goes awry, so this time I was just really pleased to have interesting friends with stories to tell.

The end of night one and I was now more committed than ever to finding San Francisco’s best Chinese food.

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