Forget the flowers, be sure to wear pants that can expand. If you plan to treat yourself as much as I did, that is. Not only was last month’s trip to San Francisco exotic because of 70 degree weather in February, but my list of food experiences broadened its horizons. I tried Istrian food, brunched with chicken hash and fresh blood orange juice, and ate a celebrity chef’s signature burger. And so exist the vacations of a food blogger.
Most noteworthy is Albona, a cozy one room destination located in the North Beach area. Reminiscent of Boston’s Italian North End, the restaurants are tucked away among houses, each one itself a home inviting you to share its native cuisine. For this reason, I was expecting authentic Italian food. What I got was its somewhat removed half cousin. Istria? Excuse me, are those letters arranged correctly? I quickly learned through deliciousness that Istria is a small peninsula across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, to which it used to belong. Currently it identifies mostly with Croatia. It’s no wonder this place is Michelin Recommended (by the guide that ranks the best restaurants in the world) each dish was exquisitely unique. The dishes sounded Italian but had hints of Middle-Eastern spice and Eastern European style.
We began each with our own dish of strudel con pasta fatta in casa. This was a pasta roll filled with slices of prosciutto and Lappi cheese baked and served in a casserole, with toasted bread crumbs, béchamel, & tomato-cream sauce. Had it been any creamier it would have been a soup. The tomato sauce and a hint of spice complemented the cream so our portions were by no means too filling.
Among the six of us we ordered five different entrees so our pallets could have as many flavor adventures as possible. I had the Stinco de videl a la Triestina. It was braised veal shank in a Burgundy wine and rosemary glaze atop creamy polenta. I didn’t need a knife, the meat fell right off the bone.
We also tried the Involtin de porco con capuzi garbi e prosuto, which was pork loin stuffed with sauerkraut, prosciutto, apples, and plums. An Eastern European touch, I believe.
The most unusual dish was the rabbit, Arosto de coniglio; sugo in agrodolce con ginepro.
They served us the whole right side of a rabbit. It took up the entire plate. Braised with onions, juniper berries, honey, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, it was sweet and juicy. But my favorite dish? Are you ready? The chicken. With its brandied-maraska cherry sauce, Albona found a way to make chicken breast taste as unique as rabbit and pork loin with five other ingredients stuffed inside. Now that’s the sign of a place that knows what it’s doing.
Next was brunch at Ella’s, a from-scratch eatery in Pacific Heights. Brunch indulgence is definitely comparable on both coasts. This place would fit perfectly in the South End. Huge pecan rolls are there to greet you right as you enter, as if to say welcome, yes, you made the right choice. The fresh squeezed blood orange juice was the next sign of brunch mastery, and the main dishes confirmed my suspicion. I had Brandied Orange French Toast on Honey Oatmeal Bread. Although it was not as gooey as what I found recently at Flour Bakery, the flavor made it enjoyably atypical.
However, the crowd pleasing dish is the Chicken Hash and Eggs. A healthier version of hash, everyone I was with ordered it but me. Rookie mistake. For next time, it’s worth the trip.
Alas, I leave you with two equally beautiful sights. Here is the Peppercorn Burger (add bacon and egg) at Burger Bar, a creation of Hubert Keller. The chef competed on Top Chef Masters, has won many awards, and likes burgers. The place sits on a higher floor of a downtown Macy’s, overlooking Union Square. Its diverse menu seemed of the can’t-go-wrong nature, and includes a $60 burger of beef stuffed with braised short rib, topped with lobster and shaved black truffles. Oh, and the milkshakes are delectable. Have I convinced anyone to travel with me yet?