Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Best Day Ever

As previously mentioned, I recently celebrated a birthday. Among several lovely presents, I received this Russ & Daughters shirt...

What better way to break in this reminder of one of my favorite New York culinary spots than a walking food tour to discover new culinary favorites in San Francisco? So on the Saturday after my birthday, a slightly chilly but clear morning, Daniel and I set out to chow down. He'd done some excellent research on some of the best spots, and our plan was to eat small amounts at as many places as possible.

We began in the Inner Richmond for dim sum.

Our first stop was the Wing Lee Bakery. A tiny little dim sum joint, known for long lines and for running out of the most popular items before noon. You order at a counter, and your delicate treasures are set on a plastic tray. Although most people get food to go, there were tables in the back, so we queued up behind the diverse crowd, and made our selections - Sweet rice cake (gelatinous and sweet, not our favorite, but still good); baked pineapple bun (sweet and soft, with a crispy crust on top, pretty lovely); coriander gow (full of lots of fresh veggies); chicken shu mai (salty, a little chewy, but with a slightly crunchy give, really fantastic). Everything was really wonderful (and only set us back $4.50), but our favorite was...

The sweet rice bun - inside sticky rice and chicken, so, so yummy and satisfying. Kind of like Hawaiian musubi...

The chicken shu mai, the coriander gow, sweet rice cake, and the pineapple bun

Daniel munching on the pineapple bun

The beautiful veggies inside the coriander bun

Next we hit Good Luck Dim Sum, just down the Clement Street from Wing Lee.

A similar establishment, one waits in a long line to order at a counter. But here you record your order on a sheet of paper, much like at some sushi restaurants. Again, most people order their food to go. Here the orders are placed in pink cake boxes...

Me, checking out our options. Pink cake boxes lurking.

Here we went for chicken shu mai (for comparison's sake), steamed chicken bun, lotus bun, and a pork bun (for me). The verdict - we liked the shu mai at Wing Lee better, but these were still good. The chicken bun and the pork bun tasted almost exactly the same, meat similar to that in a shu mai - almost a meatball - but here wrapped in soft white bread. I always find this sort of bun comforting in theory, but in practice, it's always a little much. The lotus bun was sweet, filled with a sticky, brown paste, almost like a red bean bun. It was good, but we wanted to save our apetitie, so we didn't finish the whole thing. Wing Lee won the dim sum battle, but Good Luck was nothing to sneer at, and again, the whole purchase was only $4.10, including a bottle of water...

The lotus bun

Next we headed back toward the Mission. Basically journeying from East Asia to Mexico and Central America.

On our way, we stopped on Market Street, so that I could sample what Daniel had learned was some of the best el pastor (a kind of roasted/braised pork) at Taqueria El Castillito.

While I went for the el pastor taco, Daniel went vegetarian. His taco was black beans, rice, hot salsa, cilantro, onions, cheese, and guac, with a tomato slice balanced precariously on top. While he said it was delcious, it seemed like a challenge to get one's mouth around...

My el pastor taco was comparitively petite in size, but in flavor - ooh boy. This was one mean taste sensation. Topped with just cilantro and hot salsa, the meat stood out in all its slow cooked, sweet, tender, chewy glory. Knowing that we had loads of Mexican goodness ahead of us, I didn't want to finish the whole thing, but it was honestly all I could do to hold back. This thing was incredible.

We continued our journey, our feet beginning to ache by this point, and our stomachs verging on full. We decided to window shop at a couple of burrito joints on Mission and Valencia, and to save our apetite for El Metate further into the Mission.

El Metate is known for its burittos and tacos from the sea. Although the jumbo prawn burrito is supposed to be heavenly, we decided to stick to taco size snacks, wanting to make sure to spread the joy among as many establishments as possible.

Daniel had the fish taco, lightly breaded, with some simple hot salsa, and a squeeze of lime. He was very pleased...

Meanwhile I went for the next best thing to a prawn burrito - a prawn taco. Again served simply with salsa and lime, the shrimp were perfectly cooked to have that great shrimp pop when you bite them. They were really well seasoned, and as compared to the el pastor taco, this seemed like such a light bite that I ate the whole thing. (and I'll admit, a couple of really tasty tortilla chips).

Our last stop of the day was on 24th Street, and we got there right before it closed.

La Torta Gorda
has just about every kind of torta you can imagine, and they come in two sizes, each prepared on freshly baked bread, with beans and cheese. We decided to split two (don't worry, both smalls) - and we went for the carne asada and the grilled chicken - hold the cheese and the mayo. There is very little that I love more than a sandwich, except maybe a sandwich that combines the joys of a burrito with the inherent pleasures of a sandwich. And that is exactly what these tortas did. I often find carne asada too greasy to move beyond one or two bites, but this meat was so well cooked and the grease balance so perfectly maintained, that I ate my whole half (much to Daniel's chagrin). The chicken was also really moist and well-seasoned, and we gobbled that one up too.

The carne asada. Look a that good bread, the meat, the avo. Oh yum.

Daniel in chicken torta revelry.

After the tortas, we were officially sated, so we began the long walk home. By the time we had ascended the hill back to our apartment, we were exhausted. Really exhausted. Our feet were throbbing; our leg muscles ached; frankly we could barely move. I couldn't figure out what our problem was until I logged our path into G-maps pedometer. We had, over the five hours of our adventure, walked eleven miles. No wonder we were so zonked. But realizing how far we'd gone, we decided we deserved a little dessert. So we broke open the coconut butter rolls we'd purchased at a Hawaiian bakery in the Richmond.

It was soft and butter and the coconut nice and crunchy and sweet - like a tropical cinamon roll. Just what a birthday girl and her intrepid companion needed at the end of a long, hard day. The best day ever.

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