From the second week of July until late Monday night, I was not at home. First I was at the beach for a long weekend with my family, and then for the following five weeks I was living in San Francisco with my son. It was interesting to become semi-settled into a different city, knowing all the while that there was a definite end date to our tenure. While some things about life became markedly different (Exploratorium rather than OMSI, Muni rather than TriMet, Academy of Sciences rather than…nothing at all, because both the Academy of Sciences and its home of Golden Gate Park have absolutely no counterparts in the city of Portland), others stayed remarkably similar. I still cooked most of our meals at home, I still grocery shopped for local produce whenever possible, and I still tried to work a small treat of some sort into our daily lives.
Both San Francisco and Portland are known for being rather food-centric cities, and for good reason. The offerings of both cities are phenomenal, and there are countless places where one can find a meal or snack that will send a person absolutely reeling with pleasure. I will not even begin to touch on the issue of which city offers better food than the other, because pitting one city against the other is a rather boring and useless exercise. Instead, let’s talk about some great food you can eat while in San Francisco, and some great food you can make while on vacation in any city of your choice.
Our extended stay in San Francisco wasn’t simply one long and depraved blur of Miette eclairs, Bi-Rite ice cream, and Chinese bakery poundcake. One of the best places my son and I discovered in San Francisco was a little café on Clement St. called Bunn Mi that made the best bahn mi sandwiches I have ever eaten, and I am no stranger to the delight of the bahn mi. My favorite bahn mi featured roasted 5 spice chicken, chicken pate, a mountain of pickled vegetables, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs. All this for only $4.50, and it’s enough food to last for two lunches (that is, if you are me, and you are eminently vigilant about always saving a bit of room for dessert).
My son was partial to Bunn Mi’s absolutely enormous bowls of pho, with long strings of perfect noodles, a huge plate of BBQ pork on the side, and a great selection of fresh herbs and vegetables to add in (including some sliced chiles, which he did not eat, but I managed to take care of them for him by tucking them into my sandwich, therefore bumping me up to genius level in the world of sandwich artistry).
Of course, there were many treats, and many stops were made at Tartine for some favorite pastries, including this beautiful banana cream tart, replete with pastry cream, a swipe of caramel, and a slip of chocolate. I am not even going to pretend that I didn’t eat this entire dessert, nor will I pretend that its status as a mini-tart somehow rendered it smallish or reasonable for a single person to consume. I ate the whole thing all by myself. Because I am a grown up, and I can totally do stuff like that. I also ate cake for dinner one night, because, like I said: grown up.
While we are speaking of cake, it would be terrible of me to not mention the cake my husband (who joined us for the last two weeks of our trip) and I bought for our son’s seventh birthday, celebrated during our time away. This cake hails from Schubert’s Bakery, a 100+ year-old German bakery that also happens to be located on Clement Street, and also happens to be one of my new favorite places. This beauty features a base of chocolate cake topped with a solid three inches of creamy chocolate mousse that is draped with chocolate ganache and garnished with chocolate shavings. If you love chocolate, as my son does, you will dance with happiness over this cake. (The baseball candles did not come from the bakery—they were a delightful gift sent from Portland). It took three adults and one child four days to finish this cake. To call it potent would be a ridiculous understatement.
In years past, we have always chosen to rent a flat while on trips, but this year we were able to arrange two house swaps with two different households in San Francisco, allowing us to live rent-free during our entire stay. There are numerous benefits to staying in a house or a flat rather than a hotel room, the main one being that having a kitchen at one’s disposal allows for a much more pleasant long-term eating situation. While I enjoy eating out, having to rely on restaurants for all three meals, every single day, can become an unpleasant chore. Being able to wake up, take a shower, then saunter into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee and a simple breakfast is a true delight while on vacation.
My favorite simple breakfast involves what my son has taken to calling “runny egg toast,” a name that, when seen in print, actually sounds sort of unappealing. I assure you, however, it is anything but, and, when topped with slices of fresh tomato and a generous grind of black pepper, it’s just about perfect. You start by tearing a hunk out of the middle of a slice of crusty bread, then sautéing the bread in a bit of olive oil. When the underside of the bread is touched with brown, turn the bread over, turn down the flame, crack an egg into the hole, then cover the cooking pan with a lid until the white of the egg is cooked through and the yolk is still soft. Plate the bread-with-egg, top with slices of ripe tomato (and, if you have some, a few pieces of freshly torn basil), then sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.
Another staple vacation dinner is pasta and broccoli in a lemon butter sauce, a dish that requires easy to find ingredients and produces enough leftovers to last through a couple of lunches. I have also taken to making roasted vegetable tacos, a dish that is anything but authentically Mexican, but it is delicious and filling so I make no apologies for its constant presence on our dinner table. A cinch to make, one only needs to find a selection of favorite vegetables to roast (we often go with peppers, onions, and cauliflower—like I said, not at all authentic), then those vegetables get nestled into warm tortillas with a bit of cheese, a drizzle of salsa, and a few slices of avocado and leaves of spinach or lettuce tucked in here and there.
Of course, we also came across this in San Francisco, because this is what happens when your city’s baseball team wins two World Series in three years.
I know I said I was not going to draw comparisons, but, Portland, you are killing me with your lack of interest in major league baseball. Of course, you are also the unofficial skateboarding capital of the world, so I can’t be all that mad at you. San Francisco may have AT&T Park, but Portland has the Burnside Project, perhaps the most major factor in keeping the scales of my heart from tipping south towards San Francisco Bay.