Welcome to San Francisco
Back in Tel Aviv, eating days were a thing with my fiancé and I. We would hop between restaurants and bars, trying small plates here and cocktails there. This was something I have missed during our time apart (6 months and counting!). So when he came to visit me in the Bay, I knew that an eating day was in order. The thing of it is, we were both extremely busy during the visit, and so what should have been two days’ worth of activities was crammed into a long morning.
7AM rolled around and I was out of bed working on taming my lion’s mane using copious amounts of shea butter. Refusing coffee mugs in favor of takeaways, my fiancé and I swaggered to the Bart station, eager to spend the day stuffing our faces with the local delicacies. One quick ride later and we got off at Powell street, a station once known for upper crust shops and restaurants that is now entirely soaked in urine. Holding our breaths, we got to the bus stop and made our way to the Richmond district for some Russian food.
But why Russian, do you ask? You have a Russian fiancé and are surrounded by Russian food in Israel. “Ah yes,” I might answer. “But it’s been months since I’ve smelled pelmeni dumplings swimming in their boiling water”. Pelmeni, those precious little tortellini-shaped pieces of heaven, are often absolute garbage in Israel. As in, I’ve found pieces of cartilage and bone inside the meat. Literal garbage. In the US, however, that sort of food behavior is less likely to occur.
So we arrived at Cinderella Bakery and I got way too excited. All the food that I somewhat reluctantly learned to eat and cook were all in one place. Sure, a wealth of cream cakes and something called Siberian pie, but also pickles and herring salad and pelmeni of course. For my fiancé it was easy. He was there to eat Napoleon and Napoleon he ordered. This variation on a mille feuilles is a pretty glorious way to start the day. But I had no idea what to choose from all these delicious options. After a long time debating at the counter I went for cherry varikini, these fantastic triangle dumplings with potato, cheese, or fruit fillings. Though potato is my favorite, something sweet would be best to accommodate the Napoleon.
Our food took a while to prepare. Still, there was time to enjoy the scenery and eavesdrop on unintelligible conversations. But when it did make it to the table, I was super excited. No frills, just a big piece of cake and a bowl of dumplings soaked in cherry juice with a side of creme fraiche. We dug in, and so many memories came flooding back. Dinners with the in-laws, lazy evenings in front of the TV with frozen dumplings…seemingly innocuous moments that meant the world. The cake was good. Just good, not great. A slightly thick custard and an insufficient amount of layers gave the cake a B+ rating, which is still pretty good by my fiancé’s standards. But those dumplings. Gorgeous. Hand made, so slightly imperfect, with mounds of cherries and a perfectly rolled out dough for variniki of perfect proportions. I dug in so fast I forgot to take pictures until that lovely bowl of dumplings was nothing but carnage on the table.
Waddling slightly, we made our way to the beach, where we stayed for exactly 12 minutes. It was just too freakin’ cold to deal with the wind blasting its way through our clothing. Screw it, we decided, let’s go eat some more. And so we took a long bus ride to Tenderloin and went for a highly unpleasant walk into Nob Hill for seafood.
I’d seen Swan’s Oyster Depot featured on Somebody Feed Phil (don’t judge, great show!) and decided we would have to go there someday. The moment arrived, and as we did the same we were horrified by the amount of people waiting outside. Fuck. But between coffee runs and chatting with the friendly people ahead of us, we were sat at the counter and fed some of the best seafood I’ve had in years.
We started with a sampler plate of sashimi. Lovely little slices of salmon, hamachi, scallop, tuna, and halibut rivaled any self-respecting izakaya, and the cute little capers and onions topping the fish were a welcome change to soy sauce and wasabi. Then the oysters came. Now I love oysters, perhaps too much so, and am a huge asshole when it comes to proper shucking. But these oysters give justification behind the restaurant’s name. So fresh they must have been harvested 20 minutes prior to our seating, and with such a lush and creamy flavor…I spent 5 minutes in oyster heaven. We went on to have a tasty but thin bowl of clam chowder (I wanted mine in a bread bowl with seagulls all around), and finished with the house smoked salmon on sourdough bread. Now that salmon made it all worth it. The walk through the seedy neighborhood, the guy next to us with the douchy hat who felt the need to yell to the restaurant that the scallop sashimi was to his liking, freezing our tails off on the beach…a salmon smoked to melt in the mouth perfection.
We wholeheartedly thanked the hospitable counter staff and made our way downtown, where reality came back to bite as our noses became again aggressed by the stench of stale piss. Welcome to San Francisco.