Simple enough, right? I passed on the tourist attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Coit Tower in favor of my attractions: restaurants, bagel shops, and chocolate factories.
Four days of total freedom in one of the best food cities in America. No wife (well, she was there but in a conference most of the time) and no kids telling me where to go, what not to eat, and generally complaining about my obsessive food tendencies. It was just me and San Francisco.
My plan was to walk everywhere … no cabs, no trains, no buses … just me and my trusted Asics hitting the open pavement. Well, I should say the hilly pavement. That initial 30-minute walk at 9:30 a.m. from my hotel to Swan Oyster Depot about kicked my ass. And you thought we had some hills in Little Rock?
I arrived in front of the iconic restaurant at 10:15 a.m., both a little winded and sweaty, but definitely hungry. Swan opens at 10:30 each morning, and my internet research told me to get in line 15 minutes prior to that or be prepared to wait. Sage advice, as I barely made it into the first wave of seating. Swan is tiny … like 15-20 bar seats tiny, but damn, was it worth the walk and slight wait. My crab cocktail, half dozen raw oysters, and draft Stella, along with the old-timey atmosphere, made for such a memorable eating experience.
Afterwards, I hit up Flour & Co, a little bakery/coffee shop on Hyde Street for a TCHO chocolate chunk cookie and a tiny ham and cheese sandwich.
By noon, I was done for the day. We had reservations at The Slanted Door at 8 p.m. and I wasn’t about to f that experience up by overeating throughout the day. Plus, I needed a nap. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say I was a little exhausted from sleeping in the Dallas airport the previous night because our brand new airplane had a heat shield malfunction … or some bullshit like that. Thanks, American Airlines. Anyways.
On our way to dinner at The Slanted Door, we stopped at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana for some cocktails, halibut cebiche, and empanadas. We loved the festive atmosphere of the bar area and fantastically fresh food. Props, Chef Matt Bell, for the rec.
The Slanted Door did not disappoint (thank you Paul Ward and Dr. Laura Lamps). From start to finish, it was probably my favorite overall meal of the trip. Rarely do “touristy” places like this live up to the hype, but the cellophane noodles with crab, seared tuna spring rolls, and pork shank, ensured a return visit, whenever that may be. That pork shank was insane!
The next day, I hit a series of places in the Mission District, including CREAM, Dandelion Chocolate, Katz Bagels, and Pancho Villa Taqueria. The latter two were rec’d by Chef Scott McGehee. He happens to know a thing or two about food and San Francisco, so I figured listening to him was a wise decision. It was, although excitement got the best of me as I downed a poppy seed bagel with chive cream cheese and a chicken burrito that resembled a small log … all within an hour’s time. Btw, CREAM does an early Happy Hour where you can destroy an ice cream sandwich for $2 (mine was the double chocolate cookie with banana walnut fudge ice cream).
That evening, we walked to Chinatown and had soup dumplings at Hang Ah Dim Sum. On the way there, I may or may not have taken us down a slightly scary dark alley, but the dumplings made up for my mishap.
On Saturday, things got crazy. I started the day off with a quick eggplant parm sandwich at Merigan Sub Shop near AT&T Park. My goodness … soft bread gave way to the most delicious roasted eggplant and slightly melted cheese. Knowing how much food was in store the rest of the day, I was tempted to leave half the sandwich. But I couldn’t. It was too damn delicious. Afterwards, I thanked the chef/owner, told her about my eating escapades, and was immediately instructed to get my ass down to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
What followed was four hours of being in absolute food heaven. I can’t even begin to describe the sensory overload. Endless booths of pastries, olive oils, cured meats, dried fruits, coffee brewers, and fruits and veggies had my head spinning, and that was just the outside market. Inside, the Ferry Plaza itself was an amazing collection of eateries. The only place I’ve ever seen such a food spectacle is Pike Place Market in Seattle.
For dinner, I waddled a few blocks from our hotel to the highly-acclaimed Liholiho Yacht Club, a classy restaurant specializing in Hawaiian fusion. Dinner service started at 5 p.m. Flying solo, my plan was to cozy up to the bar. I arrived at 5:10. By 5:20, every seat in the restaurant, including the bar, was filled. My order included a beautifully presented plate of squid with fried tripe and tomatoes, along with two beef tongue steamed buns, and the signature baked Hawaii for dessert. Pictured above, this stunning baked Hawaii consisted of a ball of pineapple ice cream surrounded by vanilla chiffon.
By Sunday, I pretty much hated life and especially the thought of consuming more food. I’m guessing this newfound outlook may have tainted my meal later that day at Kokkari, a super upscale Greek restaurant. That said, the restaurant had one of the most beautiful interiors I’ve ever seen, and my oven roasted prawns weren’t too shabby.
As expected, the San Francisco dining scene proved to be everything I’d thought it would be, and I obviously only scratched the surface of what this beautiful city has to offer.
Until next time.
Twenty-nine years is a very long time. In restaurant years, it’s like 150. There’s a reason why Trio’s has been open for 150 restaurant years … actually many reasons.
But it begins and ends with owner Capi Peck. She’s a ball of energy and enthusiasm that bounces around a party room with a sincerity that’s hard to find these days. This town loves Capi and her talents were on full display at our Oaxacan Dinner last Thursday evening.
During the planning stages several weeks ago, we agreed to include 25 guests, 35 at the very most. We ended up with 52. Here’s a paraphrase of how one exchange went down:
Potential Guest: “I’d like 2 tickets to the Oaxacan Dinner.”
Me: “That’s great, but you don’t even know the date.”
Potential Guest: “I don’t care. It’s Capi, please reserve me 2 tickets.”
So here we were, 52 foodies—a mix of close friends, acquaintances, and Capi loyalists—sitting in the banquet room adjacent to Trio’s, ready to partake in dishes Capi conjured up from her summer vacation to Mexico.
We ate dishes like Ceviche de Atun (ahi tuna with jicama, coconut milk, and serrano chile), Quesadillas con Flor de Calabaza (squash blossoms, huitlachoche, Poblano chile, and Oaxaca cheese), and Tamales de Pollo con Mole Negro de Oaxaca. There were even two desserts, including a Capirotada (bread pudding with pine nuts, raisins, queso penela, and cinnamon whipped cream) and a Tarta de Chocolate Mexicano with Ancho chile pecans. I can honestly say everything tasted great.
There were so many other aspects to the evening that deserve mention, like the flawless, attentive service, along with Capi’s colorful descriptions of each dish while projected pictures from her trip popped on the wall, as well as a bar that cranked out perfectly paired wine and cocktails. Hell, we even had a guac and chips station.
But, to me, the warmth (and I’m not talking temperature) in that room was what made the evening so memorable … and no moment was more indicative of this than when Capi brought out her staff to receive some well-deserved recognition.
It was a perfect ending to a perfect evening. Thank you to Capi and the entire Trio’s staff!
The Root is the first place I wrote about after arriving in Little Rock more than three years ago, and it’s nice to know the eclectic café on the outskirts of downtown is still as good today as it was back then. It is, in fact, our best breakfast option in town … at least in my eyes.
The Root’s dominance of the often overlooked breakfast service continues to grow, even with a dining room the size of a small apartment, as well as long lines, a tiny kitchen, and limited menu items. To some degree, we even cherish these characteristics of The Root. The restaurant’s charming atmosphere is as “Little Rock” as you will find, and so too is the food, which is predominately locally sourced.
Quick … come up with another restaurant in Little Rock that is truly farm-to-table.
I bet you can’t.
This isn’t a knock on other places, nor am I getting on a soapbox about eating local. Delivering a true farm-to-table experience to consumers is costly, time consuming, and flat out difficult for a restaurant to pull off. I imagine The Root’s small menu helps with matters. Speaking of …the standout breakfast items include the biscuits and gravy, pancakes, vegetarian sausage patties, the ham, egg, and cheese biscuit with muscadine jelly, and eggs banh mi. Hey, ever had the tofu scrambler? Give it a try. How about a muffin with coffee?
With cooler temps finally arriving, it’s also an ideal time to partake in the café’s outdoor seating area. Trust me, it doesn’t get much better than having a cup of coffee with a fluffy pancake while taking in this wonderful fall weather,
If you’ve yet to eat at The Root, correct that error … because it’s still the best breakfast in town. And the lunch ain’t too bad either.
Thoughts from my recent food adventures around Little Rock…
The Southern Gourmasian’s Ramen
With fall finally arriving, it’s now the beginning of soup season. The Southern Gourmasian’s ramen bowl with pork shoulder, poached egg, noodles, and scallions joins other options, like the pho at Mike’s Café and Pho Thanh and the torn wonton soup at Chi’s, as some of my absolute favorite soups in town. The rich broth and tender shreds of pork are what separate this bowl of ramen from others out there. And by “out there,” I mean in other cities across the country, as there are only a handful of Little Rock ramen options.
Eggplant Casserole Done Right at South on Main
Chef Matt Bell loves him some eggplant casserole, and his latest version, which is included on the dinnertime roasted chicken breast plate, is a winner. Chunks of soft eggplant and buttery cornbread croutons make this irresistible side dish a perfect complement to the chicken and rice. As an added bonus, the plate includes a fried chicken leg topped with South on Main’s signature pepper jelly. Both preparations were spot-on. Portions are big and at $18, the dish is an excellent value.
Solid Sushi at Sushi Café West
Sometimes I just need my sushi fix and a recent lunch pop-in to Sushi Café West hit the spot. Nothing overwhelmed, nor disappointed. As a side note, I always love to eat sushi at lunch because most places, like Sushi Café West, put one or two specials on the menu. My two rolls cost $15, which isn’t a bad deal for sushi.
Table 28 Releases Fall Menu
I was fortunate enough to sample some of the new Fall Menu items over at Table 28 with my buddy Daniel Walker. Dishes that really stood out were the pumpkin soup, kale salad, fried shrimp po’boy, and an insanely delicious pumpkin toffee sticky pudding. Dan allowed yours truly to have a bite of the dessert before he devoured the rest like a rabid dog. All kidding aside, these dishes, along with my dinner from a month ago, only help solidify the fact that Chef Scott Rains is one of the very best chefs in Little Rock. His attention to detail, creativity, and overall consistent execution of dishes, are what separates him from much of the competition.
I Heart kBird
Getting tired of me fawning over kBird? Tough shit, the admiration ain’t stopping anytime soon. This Hillcrest restaurant serves as a beacon of hope for a market that generally lacks dynamic ethnic eating options. I’ll get off that soapbox and focus back on kBird–my recent bowls of shrimp green curry and green papaya salad vaulted the restaurant to my top lunchtime spot.
Trio’s Hosts Tercos Winery
Trio’s, in coordination with De Nux Distributors, hosted a meet-and-greet with Patricio Santos from Tercos Winery. Delicious appetizers–like the curry shrimp along with the fried wontons topped with raw tuna, avocado, and tahini–paired well with the delightful Malbec and Torrontes wines from the Argentine winery. Props to Chef Capi Peck and her crew for a nice evening of food and wine.
Just a Po’Boy at The Faded Rose
A quick lunch at The Faded Rose saw me order a fried oyster po’boy with French fries and a side soaked salad. We all know The Rose is a mark of consistency, and this lunch was no different. The oysters were fried to perfection, as were the fries, and my soaked salad hit the spot (and yes, even the green olives). Food came out fast, service was friendly, and once again, The Faded Rose delivered a good meal.
Raduno Brick Oven & Barroom
This is now the second time I’ve had an excellent salad at Raduno, the first being the Caesar and now the Farmer, a beautiful bowl of mixed greens, pancetta, poached farm egg, pecorino, and red wine vinaigrette. Props to the restaurant for not scrimping on the pancetta. I washed it all down with a glass of Kona Brewing Company’s Big Wave, a light beer which paired wonderfully with the salad. Big thumbs up to Raduno … the beautiful bar, impressive draft beer selection, and excellent food and service, made for a great dinner.