By Omar Mamoon
By Kate Williams
By Pete Kane
By Molly Gore
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
Often when people ask me for restaurant recommendations, they preface their requests with an apology: "I know you must be sick of this, but ...." No, I'm not, I tell them; I love helping people find good places to eat. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't. I'm happiest when folks give me some idea of what they need, such as when a colleague wanted a handful of reasonably priced ethnic places for the week his father was visiting. And his father likes veal. Before I knew it my list included more than a dozen ideas: four Eastern European restaurants, a taqueria, two Italian establishments, and Japanese, Chinese, Peruvian, French, Indian, and Greek places. He e-mailed me back: "My dad'll love this. In Champaign-Urbana, remember, a nice meal out is a double with fries at Steak and Shake."
I was pleased to get a report afterward: "You were two for two." They'd enjoyed dinners at Kabuto A&S and Estia (where I'd even laid out a game plan for them -- a list of my favorite cold and hot appetizers, the best things on the menu -- and suggested the fried smelts, which were a hit).
Another request turned out to be even more pleasant: I got an e-mail from a woman in Los Angeles, Annie Miler, who runs one of my favorite restaurants anywhere, Clementine, a cozy eatery that also does a brisk business in baked goods and takeout. (It was sweet that she wrote in her e-mail, "Remember Grilled Cheese Month?," an annual April celebration during which Clementine offers a different and delicious sandwich every day. How could I forget? My dream was to try every single one, with Annie's perfect deviled eggs, topped with radish curls and tiny peppery sprouts, and a glass of fresh ginger limeade.) She said that she was planning to bring her store manager, pastry chef, and kitchen manager up to S.F. for a day trip to check out the Ferry Building, and wanted to know if there were any other places they should go for inspiration: specialty food stores, prepared foods, bakery-cafes. They would come on a Sunday, and, as she said, charmingly: "I know one day is nothing, but we're ready to hustle and see and taste as much as we can."
1 Ferry Building, No. 12
San Francisco, CA 94111
Premium caviar sampler $46
Taylor's Automatic Refresher
Chocolate milkshake $4.99
Sweet potato fries $3.99
Razor clams $7.75
Papas fritas $5.75
Sea scallops $12.25
Andalusian Sidecar $6.75
Tsar Nicoulai Caviar, 1 Ferry Building, No. 12, Embarcadero & Market, 288-8630. Open Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Monday. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: validated, $2 for two hours in adjacent lot. Muni: 2, 7, 14, 66, 71, F, J, K, L, M, N. Noise level: moderate to high.
Taylor's Automatic Refresher, 1 Ferry Building, No. 6, Embarcadero & Market, 318-3400. Open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: validated, $4 for two hours in adjacent lot. Muni: 2, 7, 14, 66, 71, F, J, K, L, M, N. Noise level: high.
César, 1515 Shattuck (at Vine), Berkeley, (510) 883-0222. Open daily from noon to midnight (kitchen closes at 11 p.m. on weekdays, 11:30 on weekends). No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: fairly easy. Noise level: moderate to high.
My first thought was that they should come on a Saturday, so as to be dazzled by the full force of the Farmers Market, including the many stalls dishing up prepared food (they could try everything on the delicious Mexican menu at Primavera, and get grilled steak sandwiches from the booth that sends out entrancing smells on the south side of the building). Plus, some of the ideas I had were for places that are closed on Sunday, such as tiny Desiree, hidden away in the Presidio, and Swan Oyster Depot, on Polk. But Saturday is Clementine's busiest day, so I wrote back some suggestions that included Tartine (600 Guerrero, 487-2600), Mitchell's Ice Cream (688 San Jose, 648-2300), and Bombay Ice Creamery and Chaat (552 Valencia, 861-3995).
As Annie and I e-mailed back and forth, it evolved that her crew would go directly to Tartine from the Oakland airport, swing by Bombay and Mitchell's, drive over to the Ferry Building to explore on their own, and then I'd meet them at Tsar Nicoulai Caviar (what better place to celebrate?) at 1:15 for a collation. Annie, Alfredo, Stefani, Jessica, and Jessica's East Bay-based brother, Erik, who drove the crew around for the day, arrived stuffed full of pastries and ice cream (some favorites: Tartine's cheesy bread pudding, Mitchell's coconut ice cream, Bombay's cardamom ice cream), thrilled to be up north on a gorgeous day, and hungry for anything and everything. We started with caviar and champagne at Tsar Nicoulai (and considered the Premium caviar sampler -- featuring five different sturgeon caviars, both Caspian and domestic, carefully arranged on blini -- a better bargain at three times the price than the $15 American sampler, whose rainbow-colored assortment of seven kinds of whitefish, trout, and sturgeon featured four caviars flavored with wasabi, ginger, truffle, and beet and saffron, which we tasted with more curiosity than genuine pleasure).
Afterward we wandered into Taylor's Automatic Refresher, whose Napa Valley outpost was familiar to Jessica and Erik (whose dream is to open a hamburger place). We agreed that the bucolic St. Helena setting has greater appeal than the Ferry Building location, but every seat here, inside and on the vast Embarcadero patio, was full (the place is so popular that it now opens half an hour earlier and closes an hour later than when it opened). We lined up for a shared snack of a patty melt (we admired the use of marble rye, but the bread wasn't grilled, as the menu has it, but cold), six mini-corn dogs served atop french fries, a bowl of rather characterless Manhattan clam chowder (my pick, and we should have tried the potato-bacon soup instead, even on such a warm, sunny day), good chili-dusted sweet potato fries, and a terrific thick chocolate milkshake.
Serious grazing and shopping ensued. I am pleased to report that for the entire six hours, we never stopped looking at, tasting, talking about, or buying food. We sampled Red Hawk at Cowgirl Creamery, exquisite chocolates filled with creams scented with tarragon and lemon verbena at Recchiuti Confections, and assorted jerkies at Potter Family Farms. We ogled the layouts at and picked up menus from the Slanted Door, Mistral Rotisserie Provencale, the Imperial Tea Court, and LuLu Petite. And bought just about one of everything from Frog Hollow Farm's tempting pastry display, each piece made with the farm's own fresh fruit (when I found out that the day-old galettes were marked down from $20 to $10 each, I got both cherry and peach-and-frangipane-cream versions).