San Francisco – The Food

I have been to three big cities in the United States: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Denver. Of the three, I think I liked San Francisco the most. I know, I have not spent nearly enough time living in either of them to get an accurate feel, so whatever I feel is strictly from a tourist standpoint.

I was going through all my travel photos the other day, and I spent a lot of time looking through all my photos of San Francisco. I had a great time retracing my footsteps through JPEG format. I’ve actually written most of these in the old blog, but I figured I could do a rewrite over here and hopefully be able to present them with a different twist.

I have at least 3 drafts in store after this, plus some unsorted photos, so you can expect to see more of this city in the coming few days at least.


To start things off, let’s talk about food. After all, the thing that (I think) most people are interested in is food. Food rocks, so let’s start my San Francisco series with a bang!

Pergamino Cafe

All the time that I have been in San Francisco was on transit. The reason I was here was because the flight from Singapore to the States comes either here or Los Angeles. So when I traveled, I always made sure to fly out from Penang/Singapore on a Friday. Due to the time difference, I would arrive at San Francisco on Friday night, local time. And I would spend 2 nights in a hotel down by the Fisherman’s Wharf (the most touristy seafront of SF), catching my connecting flight to Denver on Sunday.

So, what’s with this Pergamino Cafe? Well, you see, the hotel that I stayed in does not provide complimentary breakfast. In fact, it doesn’t provide any breakfast at all (there’s no in-house restaurant)! So, on my first trip here, I had to look for my first American breakfast outside the hotel. Lucky for me, I spotted two cafes just across the street, Pergamino Cafe and Joanie’s. If you have been to SF before and actually happen to know these two cafes, then you would be able to guess which hotel I stayed in. Or you can go to the old blog to check.

Just as well since I was absolutely unfamiliar with the area and starving, I decided to just head across the street and check them out. It was a difficult decision, because both had some pretty heady claims printed on their signboards.

I guess you already know which one I chose in the end. Until today I am not sure why I chose Pergamino. I just felt like it at that moment. Well, maybe (just a tiny maybe) the name Pergamino sounds classier and more exotic…

Anyway, I went in and was greeted by a friendly black man (this is a factual statement, not a racist statement). He quickly declared that I made the right choice to enter his shop instead of that lousy shop next door (they’re actually separated by two other shops). This in turn made me feel somewhat suspicious. If an eatery is good enough, it should never need to resolve to badmouthing the competition, right?

This cafe sells omelettes and waffles with various toppings. As it was sunny but cool, I chose to sit at a table outside. I don’t know why, but I was the only idiot who did so. When I glanced over at that shop next door, I noticed their server staring at me, and then shook his head in mock disbelief before turning away. I couldn’t help but think: “So everyone does this huh? What a perfect way to get introduced to American culture!

Anyway, since I already chose my bed, might as well sleep in it. Let’s get back to Pergamino Cafe. The cafe is actually quite simple. On one side is the counter where they prepare your food, on the other side is the self service coffee/tea bar. You can pick your favorite mug out of probably 100 of them, all different shapes and sizes. And then you can pick from 8 different coffee blends or an assorted selection of teabags and make your own drink. The best part is, the drinks are free flow and complimentary, you just need to pay for the food!

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The black server was yapping about how I must try their homemade, out-of-this-world orange and blackcurrant jam. In fact, after he served me my food, he came back once to make sure that I really did try the jam, and another time to make sure that I really liked the jam.

I’m not sure if it was because of hunger (I had not eaten dinner last night) but the jam tasted really good! In fact, the omelette that I ordered was really good too! I said I’m not sure because when I look at the photos now, they don’t seem very good, but my memory tells me that they are! In fact, I came back again the next morning because I felt the food is really good here! Of course, this also means that I have never been able to verify whether that shop next door is really lousy or actually better.

Well, I did see something that made me feel better about my choice. Apparently a tourist family was so happy with the food here that they wrote and drew a message on a napkin to stick to the walls here.

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Of course, there is every possibility that Jym and Stacey are actually imaginary people created by the owner! I wouldn’t know!

Denny’s

I didn’t learn of the existence of Denny’s until my second time to SF, when the so very kind hotel receptionist informed me of this 24-hours food joint where I can get food in the middle of the night in their sister hotel, 2 blocks away. It was hidden inside that hotel so no wonder I never saw it before.

Denny’s is what Americans call a family restaurant. As the name implies, families come here to have their meals. You see a lot of European/American backpackers coming to Southeast Asia looking to do what the locals do and eat where the locals eat. Well, Denny’s (I think) is the epitome of where local Americans eat. And did I mention that they are open for 24 hours a day? When you are hungry in the middle of the night/early morning and nothing is open, you can always count on Denny’s!

My first meal here was The Lumberjack Slam.

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Two eggs, two grilled sausages, two grilled hams, two bacon strips, a big pile of hash brown, and two pancakes complete with maple syrup. This is the perfect example of what my mom imagined me eating EVERY SINGLE MEAL, EVERY SINGLE DAY while in the States. Her boring imaginations gave her countless sleepless nights.

Of course what she imagined is very far from truth. Yes, I love my meat, and I love my bacon, but that doesn’t mean that I am a six year old kid who is not capable of trying to eat healthy. And it gets easier in recent years as far as the States is concerned. Most restaurants nowadays have a separate menu with healthier options. I heard from someone that it is stipulated by law that all restaurants MUST have healthy alternatives in their menu. So if you think it is impossible to dine healthily in America, you can think again.

For example, I had this for dinner in Denny’s once. Can’t remember the actual dish name, it’s basically breaded chicken breast strips with two sides, and I chose steamed spinach and steamed broccoli.

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Of course, as expected, when my mom saw this photo, her eyes were only able to zoom in on the chicken strips and omit the overflowing pile of greens. And then there was the customary “Don’t eat so much meat!

Ghirardelli

I’m sure most of you know Ghirardelli. It might be unknown in Malaysia 10 years ago, but people started to bring Ghirardelli chocolates back as souvenir, and nowadays I think you can even purchase their chocolates in most major hypermarkets in Malaysia.

Ghirardelli originates from San Francisco. Their original shop is still here. In fact they have an entire section named after them here, called the Ghirardelli Square. You can come here to learn a bit of chocolate history, get some cheaper Ghirardelli chocolates, hangout for a bit.

Or you can do something that you won’t be able to do elsewhere in the world. You can go to the shop and have not chocolates, but Ghirardelli ice cream!

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And that was what I did. Just like that was what so many tourists to this city did as well.

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You get an enormous ice cream served on a plate. If this is not awesome, then I don’t know what is. Don’t you agree?

Clam Chowder

Another food item that San Francisco is famous for is the clam chowder. Now clam chowder you can get in many places. Almost every restaurants in San Francisco has it on their menu. You can also get them in different versions across the different states in America. In fact, you can even get it from the Malaysian franchise, Manhattan Fish Market. here in Malaysia!

If you ask me, though, nothing beats heading down to the Fisherman’s Wharf, looking for one of the many stalls on the side strip and getting yourself one of these.

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Clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl.

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Now, if you have the clam chowder by itself, it is nothing special. In fact it tastes a bit just like those tinned Campbell mushroom soup. Sourdough bread, if you have it by itself, (I think) it actually tastes awful. BUT, sourdough bread dipped in clam chowder, now that’s excellent! Amazing! Wonderful!

The way you eat this is to tear of the bread from the top, dip it into the chowder and eat it. Then as the chowder gets consumed, you tear of more pieces of the bread and repeat the same process until both bread and chowder are gone.

And of course, this thing is best shared, else it would be one full meal by itself and you can forget about having other things for dinner. Unless you want to roll your way back to the hotel.

Chinatown

On my first two visits to SF, I did not get a meal in Chinatown. As a result, I was berated by all my friends who have been to SF before. Words like idiot, moron, regret of your life were flying around freely.

So before I left for the States for the third time, a friend said to me: “Dude, you MUST go to Hing Lung in Chinatown! You MUST try their lobster porridge! It is nothing like you have ever eaten before in Malaysia! Stop mucking about anymore or you will really regret for the rest of your life! I swear to God!

It sounds pretty serious. So on my third visit, I finally decided to make that pilgrimage. Just as well that I was finally traveling alone on this visit, I did not need to worry about everyone else’s food preference. And it wasn’t easy. I had to walk almost 3 kilometers from the hotel to Chinatown (I’ll talk about this ordeal in a later post), to this restaurant, Hing Lung 兴隆.

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Guess what I found upon arrival? The place was closed down. Not closed for the day, but closed down. There was a notice attached to the door indicating that the restaurant failed a safety inspection just a couple weeks ago and their license has been revoked.

Perfect! I was just a couple weeks late and now I shall never be able to taste that extremely wonderful lobster porridge that apparently can push you into gastronomic orgasm! I now officially have a regret of my life!

To make matters worse, I was starving and tired. I planned to have breakfast here, but it was not to be and did I mention I just walked almost 3 kilometers to get here? I know I should have explored the entire Chinatown to look for other nice food, but in the end I just went to the shop next door.

Don’t remember the restaurant’s name, but there’s pictures of Jackie Chan and Eric Tsang. If it is endorsed by Hong Kong movie stars, it has to be good, right?

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This was what I ordered: 三烧炒饭 Fried Rice with Three Roasted Meats.

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Or maybe it was 叉烧炒饭 Fried Rice with Char Siew and I saw the menu wrongly due to hunger. Because the only meat I can find in this plate of rice is char siew. A generous bit of char siew, but still only char siew nonetheless.

But it’s good. It tasted like a proper Chinese fried rice instead of an Americanized fried rice. And the portion is huge! You see this photo? This was me halfway eating through it. I was super hungry, but I had to throw in the towel after two thirds of the rice. I packed the rest of it with me as late lunch. I paid US$ 10 for it. Pretty decent price, especially as we’re in touristy San Francisco if you ask me.

Joe’s Crab Shack

Last, but not least…

I’ve visited San Francisco three times. I’ve had dinner in Joe’s Crab Shack three times. In other words, this is the restaurant that I MUST visit every time I come.

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I don’t know, this is actually not a most recommended place among my peers. In fact many told me that I can get better at another restaurant down at Pier 39 (I’ll talk about this Pier 39 in a later post), but I never bothered because I really love Joe’s Crab Shack.

I think mostly, I love the vibrant atmosphere here. I’ll choose this over high class, fine dining restaurant. Sorry Red Lobster. There are so many people here, so I don’t think this place is really that bad. If it is that bad then it would be deserted, wouldn’t it?

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And I love the drinks here. They have an array of drink mixes that makes you feel like an adult but at the same time like a kid. It’s great!

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Most of all, I love the crabs, of course! It is always dark in here, so it is very difficult to get a decent photo. But look at the size of the crab legs? This one is called Joe’s Classic Steampot. The steampot in the picture, it is as big as a soup pot that we normally use. That’s how big those crab legs are! You get half a Queen crab and half a Snow crab with this steampot.

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I’ve always heard people claiming that the crabs in Penang or Klang or wherever being the best, and how we can suckle the flesh out of the legs with no effort at all. To me, that is a bunch of bullshit, because it has never happened to me before, anywhere in Malaysia. Every time I eat crabs in Malaysia, it is guaranteed to be a mess, where I have to use a wide array of tools to crack open the legs and dig the flesh out with my fingers. Crabs are NOT my most favorite seafood in Malaysia.

The only crabs that I have ever eaten that I can really suckle the flesh out easily are at, yes… Joe’s Crab Shack. And I love that feeling! That’s why I would come again and again..


So.. yeah, that’s my food adventures in San Francisco. I realized the post is quite long compared to my usual posts. I should have made them into two separate posts, but… what’s done is done, and I’m too lazy to edit them now.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading and drooling over the food. Next I will share more about other touristy aspects of San Francisco…

 

20 Comments

    • I guess if we spend enough time in a place, it will eventually become a food paradise regardless of the place! 😀

  1. Nooooo!!! I can’t believe you kept on going to Denny’s. Lots of American’s do go to Denny’s, but Denny’s is really really gross! It’s popular among the late night drunk crowd, or the morning hungover crowd since it’s cheap and open 24/7. I’m sad that part of your impression of SF cuisine in Denny’s!

    Clam chowder in sourdough bread bowl – yep, that’s a must for me too when I visit SF! I agree that clam chowder isn’t too amazing, but I LOVE sourdough. It’s one of my favorite breads. Try it sliced and toasted and buttered/jammed if you ever run into it again!

    And as for seafood in SF, if you ever go back there, try The Stinking Rose. It’s a garlic restaurant that specializes in seafood. So good, if you love garlic!

    • LOL! What’s wrong with Denny’s? I thought they’re great! No, I don’t think Denny’s is SF cuisine, I think it is American cuisine, (you’re gonna be even more mad at me now) because I have also been to Denny’s in Los Angeles and Denver! 😀

      It’s hard to get decent sourdough bread here. If I can find it, I will try your recommendation.

      I think I’ve seen The Stinking Rose before. It’s an Italian along that long Columbus Avenue isn’t it? You know why I didn’t go? The taxi that took me from the airport to my hotel passed by that place and the taxi driver said: “This is the most overrated restaurant in San Francisco, make sure not to go there!”. And I trusted him. I probably shouldn’t have. 😐

      • Haha, maybe it is overrated because it’s so popular. I’ve only been to SF a few times so I don’t know of any local recs. I just know that I used to love The Sticking Rose in LA! I used to go all the time!

  2. Wow…that’s a lot of food you remembered…I can’t remember anything I ate! Hey, you can get clam chowder (or any soup) in a bread bowl here too, you know…hee..hee! 😀

    • Well, some of them are fairly recent, some of them my old blog remembers for me! 😀

      Where to get in Malaysia, the clam chowder? With sourdough bread?? Not sourdough then not counted! 😀

      • Clam chowder…got. Sourdough bread…got. Clam chowder in sourdough bread…err, not sure if got! Clam chowder in a bread bowl…definitely got, had it, didn’t like it, don’t remember where now.

        Somehow, the bread in your pic doesn’t quite look like the sourdough I had (looked like normal bread to me). The ones I had before have lots of holes in it and has a sour undertone (I was told that the main characteristic of sourdough is the large holes…not sure if it can hold soup in it)! http://eatwhateatwhere.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-press-room-bistro-pavilion.html

        • I don’t know leh, the stalls all said “clam chowder in sourdough bread bowl”. The bread did taste different compared to normal bread.

  3. OK, must go to SF! The food look alright to me, I mean I had good food experience when I was in US except for the Chinese food. I did try the clam chowder, the New England clam chowder but it is not to my taste. Maybe it’s because I don’t like creamy soups. But I did like the crabcake. You sure had very good food memories!

    • When I look at this compiled post, it feels like I had a pretty awesome food time! But the truth is, when I was actually there, the only thing that I thought about is how not to starve in angmoh country! 😀

  4. Wah, got 3 drafts jor, I only got 1, hehe..Oh yes, I am interested in food, rather than buildings and all.. Maybe it’s just me..Not a fan of crabs, so I prefer your breakfast meals.. I like that meaty omellete, in face any breakfast sets with nice fat juicy filled meaty omelletes..

    • I think you’re not a fan of crabs for the same reason as me. If that is the case, you will love the crabs here! 😀

  5. Joe’s Crab Shack is my top choice! The omelettes look very good too. I have a weakness for eggs made anyway except half boiled and raw. I think your mother would feel better if she saw grilled skinless chicken or better still steamed chicken instead of breaded deep fried chicken next to the steamed broccoli and steamed spinach but I have never seen steamed chicken on Western menus.

    • I did not mention in the post, but she followed up with the question: “Why so little vegetables?”. Seriously, really??

      Now that you mentioned it, I don’t recall seeing any steamed chicken/fish dish in America. Not even in Chinese restaurants. Hmm. I wonder why is that.

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