Day 4 in the Bay (pt 2) – Personal Pub Crawl and “Authentic” Chinese

Traveling for a conference is always good when the conference delivers. This California Minority Counsel Program conference was good, interesting, and Bernard Tyson is a great public speaker. Which is to say that when it wrapped up I was in a good, positive frame of mind to go exploring San Francisco one last time. I’d already settled on a dinner place thanks to a friend, whose recommendation was bolstered by a young San Fransiscan I met who described herself as “Chinese, but I don’t really like Chinese food.” Nevertheless, these two recs encouraged me to give R & G Lounge a run for its money–but the story has quite a bit more before we get to the famous Salt & Pepper Crab.

Being a lover of craft beer poured by independently owned small businesses, I set out to find a place I’d heard a lot about because of its cousin in San Diego on 30th Street in North Park. And thus began the adventure that was my trip to Toronado. I should start this story with a word about my utter inability to gauge distance on a map. Maybe the next Apple app for its maps should have warnings like “NFW you can walk this” or “dude, catch the bus, seriously.” This to say, on the MAP it looked walkable. On the MAP it looked like I could just get a brisk walk in the city. On the MAP I couldn’t see the hills nor the, ahem, spirit of the neighborhoods I’d traverse. Fortunately for me, I had the good sense to ask a bellman about a mile from my hotel who filled in where Apple left off. His advice? Cross the street and take the 38 bus down to Fillmore street.

Random Interruption: There’s an interesting article on grassfed beef vs locally raised beef in San Diego here from Edible.

The 38 bus at 5pm on a Wednesday was like an elevator car or a stadium entrance–tons of people all occupying a very, very small space. Only this one was moving and every stop added one or two more people. It felt like one of those circus clown cars where people just keep hopping in but it never seemed to get too full. Constantly bobbing my head around the hipsters and post-work suits to read the street signs, I just barely caught sight of the word “Fillmore” on the corner as I jumped off and began the peculiar trek through a historic San Francisco neighborhood.  Historic, as applied to Fillmore is not the traditional sense of quaint old homes and anachronistic horse hitching posts that might line some streets. Fillmore’s version of historic could’ve been supplanted with something much shorter, like “old” or “in need of TLC.”  While I won’t sidestep onto a long rant about neighborhoods that cities sometimes forget–and I don’t know if this is one, though it certainly looks like it–you can read about the real reasons for Fillmore’s historic designation here.

I didn’t realize how much of the journey I still had to get to Toronado, nor the joys that were moving through ‘the Filmore’ until I came upon my first collection of dudes apparently doing much of nothing–and doing it with gusto. It was about that time an old Rappin 4tay song came in my head and I remembered where I last heard mention of Fillmore. Oooooh, thaaaat Fillmore. Right, got it. Zipped up the borrowed hoodie, scowled a bit harder (was already scowling a little from the longer than anticipated walk) and kept right on moving. Fillmore seemed a lot like many newly “melting” urban neighborhoods around the country. What I mean is, America is known as a melting pot (or, by some, a salad bowl), which is taken to mean that people from all walks of life around the planet come here and join in on an ideal that is America. To an extent, this is true, though it has probably always been more lore than reality. That said, the Fillmore seemed to be “melting” again, with young professionals, Tradesman, cyclists, dog walkers and passers by of all races, shapes and sizes.  It turned out to be a mostly easy walk, though I wouldn’t recommend it for those whose lives have been at all sheltered.

On the home stretch to Toronado my spidey sense started tingling and I thought a quick ATM stop would be in order. Nothing worse than reaching your destination, settling in on a beer, getting all comfy…and then finding out its cash only.  A quick, overpriced ATM stop and fee later and I’m turning the corner on Haight to wind my way here.

The “other” Toronado (the one without Nate)

As expected, I was met with the familiar dutch door and music not to my taste–and to dozens of people enjoying great beer. I nudged up to the bar, plunked down $5 and ordered up a Double Daddy by Speakeasy. The bartender, a San Diego transplant named Robin, was pleasant enough (until a momentary camera flash snafu almost got me in hot water–I was trying to take the photo below), though the tap list seemed much smaller than the San Diego Toronado.

Some of the handles in Toronado

Interesting side note: for the first time I saw the importance of tap handles as a branding item. A new friend of mine is a specialist in this area of craft beer law and I honestly hadn’t really thought about it before. But as I moved between crowded bars the familiar and distinct Lost Abbey cross and Green Flash emblem provided some comfort that I would be able to default to a quality beer if I couldn’t find something new to try.

Back to my story, someone turned up the music to Small Bar level (a 28 on a 10-point scale), so it was time to call it good and move on to another recommended spot–zeitgeist in Duboce.  Along the short, very peaceful walk near the US Mint (random, I know) I bumped into a guy named Moises who was a local engineer–and vocal opponent of Prop 32 (for official information check this). Prop 32 is a political funding initiative that seeks to make certain types of contributions harder while letting some groups continue to make them, but mine isn’t a political piece (update: Since coming home I’ve read more and decided that Moises was right.  Getting money out of politics is a good thing.  But knee-capping only half the equation (unions) only serves to make anti-union voices louder.  Maybe that was the point of Prop 32, but that’s not good enough and really not all that fair.  Make a bill that cuts off both sides equally and then come talk to me, till then, this one gets a “no” from me). *climbing down off soapbox*  I just note that the guy I met felt so strongly he was moved to go door to door. As a relative late-comer to participating in politics I can understand feeling compelled to do more than just talk. Good for him.  Now back to the craft beer and Chinese food…

Zeitgeist (which refers to this, by the way) was a place you’d miss-or skip-unless you knew better. In fact, I’d done just that the night before in my cab. But I’m glad I came back since I wouldn’t have found this out back

Kind of hard to see in this photo, but a massive back patio

This was a traditional bar with great beer…and awful, terrible, disinterested and rude bartending. Not just mildly okay or indifferent, actual unpleasant attitude. The place wasn’t terribly full, nor were there any emergencies that I could see. It’s possible her love for the Yankees made her preoccupied and disinterested in being helpful. Hard to know. The problem, of course, is that they had some great beer–and that awesome outdoor patio. I did meet a guy named Matt at the bar who, like most craft beer fans I come in contact with, was super friendly and had some good tips for other bars. Still, I wonder why some bars take basic pleasantries so for granted. Thanks to Taphunter, I can find the beer I want at a dozen places, unless I just want to hang out at a specific place, I will always choose the more pleasant environment. Still, that damn beer at Zeitgeist was good. I started with something good that escapes me and finished with a Death & Taxes by Moonlight Brewing.  With a pending date at R & G Lounge, I wrapped up my affairs, brushed off the frosty bartender and rushed outside to grab a cab.

My rundown of R & G is going to be a bit truncated because this is getting long. I’ll start by saying we were in the extreme minority in a restaurant filled with Chinese diners. I’ve often felt it a good sign when an ethnic food restaurant is filled with people of that group. It has worked for Ethiopian in DC, Mexican in Arizona and Jamaican in Maryland. And now for Chinese in San Francisco. We started with the signature salt and pepper crab.

Photo of a very tasty, if difficult to access, crab

First let me say that it was as good as advertised. The crab was tender and juicy and the breading was tasty and not overbearing. That said, I hate the work you have to do to get crab out of its shell. Call me a lazy eater, but man it is frustrating. And no matter how much meat the cracked leg produces, it still feels inadequate as compared to the effort associated with retrieving it. My only other gripe, more of an observation really, is why the heck do they bread THE OUTSIDE of the crab!?! Were I a less seasoned consumer I could’ve lost a tooth. No, not really, but doesn’t it seem at least a little odd to bread and fry something you won’t actually be eating? This was strange to me.  We followed up the crab with scallops, oysters and the Peking duck. Bless you, Peking duck. You were delicious. Duck is not easy. Or if it is a lot of people in the food business suck at it. But this was good. I took a picture I was so pleased.

Very good Peking Duck with soft, tasty white bready things

I’m not really sure what I enjoyed so much about the duck. Maybe it was that they hit the right balance of well-cooked and tender. Maybe it was the decreased amount of fat or the little buns and hoisin sauce. Whatever the case, I’d put this on a list of things to eat if you go here. There were four of us, eating to our hearts content, and I felt pretty good that the final bill was only about $100. Not bad at all. This was the right final meal in San Francisco. Not as good as if I’d pulled a Anthony Bourdain and toured through China Town or stumbled onto Perbacco or some of the other restaurants I’d heard about. But a solid effort from a city I thoroughly enjoyed. Thank God San Francisco is a hilly place, as there’s no way I could’ve had such a great time without a bit of exercise. Thanks for stopping by

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