Friday, May 06, 2005

I left mad tips in San Francisco (Masu full of Sake part II)

I love San Francisco. It's set up to be welcoming and easy to navigate.

Mr. Sign, where is Coit Tower?

Seriously though, the good times continued in SF the next day. E and I hiked through Chinatown on our way to the Wharf, sampling this and that along the way. The first thing that we ate were some affordable char siu bao (steamed pork buns) purchased from the same baker that I've bought them from for the past 15 years. One thing that Chinatown is definitely renowned for is its affordable food. In addition, its affordable implements for creating such food live up to their reputation.

I wanted to buy every knife on this rack, especially the leaf-shaped cleaver at top left. The next time I'm there it's the first thing I'll do. We ended up finding some excellent composite knives at We Be Knives on pier 39 later on but have no photographic evidence.

Our first official food stop was at E's family's old favorite, Hunan Houses.

I was afraid this was going to be a memory-for-emotion experience since E had always come here with her family as a child. Mercifully I was wrong, and even though we only ordered apps, all the dishes I saw go by looked and smelled excellent. The pork ribs we got were quite generous and a meal in themselves at only $6.95 or so. We were halfway through them when we remembered the camera:


Washing it down with our Taiwan beers, we headed out on foot towards the wharf. We made the mile or so journey on foot in what seemed like very little time. Upon arrival at pier 39, we realized that to anyone but native San Franciscans, we didn't really look like tourists. The tourists who were there were hilarious though, and we captured them in all their tourist poses in several unpublishable photos.

One thing that is always fun in a touristy area is eavesdropping on people who speak other languages, because most Americans simply don't bother to learn them so they think they won't be understood. I studied French for ten years, speak reasonably good Japanese and understand Spanish O.K. So, if I'm in a sushi bar that employs short order cooks and is popular with French people, I'm set! The photo below we took for the blog but didn't realize it would come out the way it did:

Mon dieu! Regarde ce serpent-la!

Exactly what is it of mine that this fat old French woman is staring at? Whatever it was, she and her companion were busily tearing apart a loaf of San Francisco Sourdough and alternately devouring it and discussing its crappiness. They would be right to--any bread you're going to get on the wharf is probably not as fresh as what the French are used to, especially if they are from a metropolitan area.

After visiting the aquarium on the wharf, which was a lot better than we thought it would be, we decided to hit up some of the famous restaurants in the area and see what they had to offer. Taking a cue from a book in the aquarium's gift shop, we decided to try Alioto's . The approach to the restaurant says it all:

These crabs gave up their lives so that we might ~sniff~ feast upon them.

Before I say anything else about Alioto's I have to point out that we got very special treatment. We had the camera on hand and were taking photos of everything that moved (and didn't move). We think they thought we were from Fodor's or some such organization. I supposed the whole concept of blogging hasn't really trickled down to these old guard places yet, so if you've got an expensive-looking camera and spend your meal talking about food that equates to critic status in their minds.
The first thing we did was set up our drink order. See if you can guess how many of the drinks in the photo below are mine:

Only the bottom right beer is mine, a draft they called "Alioto's Amber". I asked our waiter, a class act if I ever saw one (he must read Waiter's Rant) if they were the ones who produce it and he said yes. Lo and behold when the beer arrived it tasted exactly like anchor steam. This is not a problem and the waiter may not even be aware of it, though I doubt it (he's too good for that).
We both thought we'd try out the clam chowder since it was SF and the area was famous for it. The chowder arrived with dispatch:

This chowder was really not bad at all. I don't think it will win any awards or anything, but it's very much what you'd expect from chowder except that it lacked bacon. I am OK with a lack of bacon, but E, a reformed vegetarian, wouldn't hear of it. "No bacon! Why don't they just fill it up with celery!?" was her analysis. How right she was.
Next we ordered apps and a couple of drinks. The steamers are always a good way to test the kitchen of a seafood restaurant. We had a couple of problems with them though when they arrived:

First, they were not, as the menu indicated, manila clams. I cannot identify what type of clam they were. But this would not generally serve as any great impediment to my consuming shellfish. What did stop us, however, was the fact that each of them contained an upturned boot's worth of sand, which rendered them completely inedible. I told the waiter "I don't want to be contentious or anything, but these clams are really sandy. Do you think there are any more back there?" To his credit, the waiter repaired to the kitchen and came back with the news that went something like "I think no matter what clams you order they're going to be sandy today." Like I said, a class act. This guy knew we'd just be sending the next round of sandbags back. So, we ordered the escargot, which is pretty hard to mess up.
In the meantime we spent a bit of time people watching. A group of immense tourist women sat down at a table near ours and began their ordering process. I shit you not - four of the six women ordered cheeseburgers, one (identifying herself as a "vegetarian") ordered simply french fries (ou "Frites de la Liberté" comme on dit à Wisconsin) and the sixth ordered the BAY SHRIMP LINGUINE. I'm sure this midwesterner thought herself the adventurous one of the bunch.

Avez-vous du poupon gris?

This was some of the funniest behavior exhibited by tourists that we saw that day. We felt like Steve Irwin and his wife observing the eating habits of some strange species. Of course it's each person's right to like what they do and not what they don't, but if you don't like seafood what the hell are you doing on fisherman's wharf in an INTERNATIONALLY KNOWN SEAFOOD RESTAURANT? Why not just go to Panda Express and order a hot dog? Better still, go to a kosher restaurant and order a ham and cheese sandwich. See how far you get.

Our snails came up and we chowed down. These were larger than the ones I've usually seen, meatier as well. They were quite good and within minutes we were ordering more beer to wash down the butter and garlic:

Look at that 'S' Car Go!

By now the wait staff was thoroughly convinced that the reputation of the restaurant lay in the hands of a couple of drunk bloggers. When the check came, all of the food had been comped. Both being ex-foodservice workers, though, we weren't going to let the waiter get shafted on his tip. We left him a twenty, which he tried to break for us and we wouldn't let him.

On the way out, a man who could only be the owner or a relative of the owner thanked us for our patronage. We replied with profuse thanks for the dining experience. As long as someone thinks that you've got a soapbox, you may as well let them know that if you did, you'd be singing their praises. If we go back to the wharf, Alioto's will get another visit, and this time we'll leave the camera at home.

Next: Chow-Duh!


Blogger drbiggles said...

Dang man, you don't hold back do you? I was tired half way through.

How much was that leaf shaped cleaver?

I had some wonderful Pho at the Pacific East Mall today. I'm feeling giddy.

Senior Biggles

12:51 PM  
Blogger Dr. Jones said...

Pho Saigon or the other one?

I think the cleaver was about 14 bucks. Had I had cash I woulda bought it.

12:08 AM  

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