Check One-Two.

Fred and I just returned from our final trip to San Francisco before we embark on our Eastward adventure. Our last trip, period, before we head East. So, of course, I had a few restaurants, two in particular, to cross off my never ending list. One was Mission Chinese Food. I have been trying forever to find the perfect Chinese food spot. One that's not trying to keep up with the healthy Jones' (I want some of that MSG, umami, and some greasiness, dammit), one that's not too far off the beaten path (no molecular gastronomy here, please), but one that is trying to insert a modicum of creativity into the food. I have been coming up empty. To the universe's credit, I haven't been making any backbreaking attempts either. It would certainly not fall into 'my life mission' category. But, whenever I crave Chinese food I am reminded of the whole issue.

Well, now I'm even more irritated about this since I found EXACTLY what I was looking for in a city where I do not reside and in the very state I am leaving permanently in a few short weeks.

Within a couple of hours of waking up on our first morning, we grabbed coffee, picked up my Dad and his girlfriend, Dale, checked out the Diebenkorn exhibit at the de Young Museum, and found ourselves standing face to face with the wonky, old-school, hole-in-the-wall-Chinese-eatery, pop-up turned restaurant-within-a-restaurant, hipster-hot Mission Chinese Food.

Inside it was still, it was dark and it was hot. If you want ice in your drink, too bad. No ice.

I skipped breakfast for this so I could order as many different items as possible. So we did. Beers for the boys, soda for Dale and a grüner for me. Then we went for it: Beijing Vinegar Peanuts with smoked garlic, anise, fennel seeds, rock sugar ($5), Fresh Rice Noodle with peanut sauce, tofu skin, pickled mustard greens ($8), Stir-Fried Pork Jowl and Radishes with fermented black bean, shiso, mint ($12), Grandma's Spicy Lamb Dumplings with peanuts, dill pickles, chili oil ($9), Squid Ink Noodles with cumin, fennel and chick peas, lamb dipping broth (I can't recall the price), and finally Braised Pea Leaves with pumpkin, pressed tofu, salted chili broth ($12).

All of the flavors were bright, fresh, creative and surprising – think dill, smoked garlic, fennel, pumpkin, all mixed in with the tofu, pork jowl, dumplings, and rice noodles. And somehow, amidst all of this intrigue we were completely sated in the Chinese-food-craving department. This vibrant and intelligent food still had enough of the classic flavors and textures, even the oil, and the unctuous quality we know and love (within reason) about traditional Chinese food. And, no joke, I will be making those vinegar peanuts at home very soon. I could eat those forevers.

I will happily remember that meal for a very, very long time. I'm pretty sure we all will.

Check one.

The second place I knew I had to visit on our short trip was Tartine Bakery. I don't eat a ton of pastries, nor do I crave them very often. However, I have been really exploring the world of baking of late and am extremely interested in everything that goes into the science of it. More importantly, I am a sucker for an incredible butter croissant – and it's almost shocking how few I come across.

And so, on our last morning in San Francisco, while Fred was brunching and bonding with his Aunt and cousins, and Dad and Dale were wrapping things up and checking out of their their hotel, I knew exactly what I would be doing. I knew I had to go at it alone, and really, I wanted to. My dad would never in 2759870 million years have tolerated that line for a pastry, or anything really. Actually, I'm guessing no one involved in this trip would have wanted to endure that line unless it was to pick up their winning Powerball check.

So I hopped into Fred's car (a stick shift), clocked my destination on my smartypants phone and headed out, lurching and jerking along the way (it had been quite a while since I had driven a stick – and this was possibly the worst city to test that time lapse). After spending twenty minutes finding parking, which was about two blocks away, I walked up to the bakery and settled in back of the infernal eternal line, halfway down the block – and yes, it was formidable. And, no, there were no available seats inside or out by the time I received my order: a ham and cheese croissant, a plain butter croissant, a loaf of their sourdough bread and a latte (totaled around $20). So I walked back to the area where the car was and plopped right down on the curb.

I don't know. To most people none of this may sound appealing in the least: driving strange car in strange city to wait in seemingly endless line to get 'breakfast' only to find there is nowhere to sit and then sit on the side of the road in mid-August to drink hot coffee and eat a pastry. All alone. Not even a book to read.

Well, I'm not certain exactly what it was. The journey, the anticipation, or even the little spot in the shade all by myself, but that croissant and that latte and that moment were... perfect. I mean, perfect. It was one of those – and I've talked about them before – Cosmic Muffin moments. Those Nowhere-I'd-Rather-Be moments.

The latte was warm, rich, smooth and comforting. The croissant was flaky, crunchy, light and yet somehow strapping, with heft... and buttery, oh so buttery, like a delivery system of cultured French butter, buttery. After two bites in, it looked like there had been a flash snowfall of flaky crumbs around my toes on the sidewalk.

Nirvana, pure bliss; I was truly happy.

Check two.

And then I was ready. Ready to get back into the car and brave the drive to pick up the grow ups, then Fred, to head up for the bucolic segment of the trip: Inverness.

One year ago: Heirloom Melon & Tomato Gazpacho
Two years ago: Beer Braised BBQ Pork Butt
Three years ago: Classic Southern Deviled Eggs
Four years ago: Nebulous Misadventures (AKA The Lost Weekend)


  1. You went all out at Mission Chinese. The dishes I thought were super spicy, but in a super tasty way.

    Epic meal.. Way to go!

  2. Vijay,
    Yeah, I was really impressed with Mission Chinese. Ours didn't seem so spicy, but maybe my tolerance is up... Thank you for reading!!