Carbs don't like me. Normally though, we figure out a peaceful coexistence where bread and pasta taunt me from a distance, and I look the other way, pretending carrots taste much better than any butter laden, crumbly croissant. Except when I travel. All bets are off when I hit the open road. And hit I did when I recently went up to Northern California. San Francisco threw a very specific carb-a-palooza party for me, and I embraced each and every iteration. Here were the lucky one's I got to enjoy.
The Mill - Toast
You may or may not have heard, if you have a less food obsessed life than me, that toast, is a thing. Yes, toast. One slice, popped in a toaster and served to you for $4 per slice. You can point fingers at San Francisco if you want to yell at the absurdity of going out for this simplest of home goods. Or you can try a piece and decide for yourself.
The Mill was one of the pioneers of slicing and warming bread in the Bay Area, and when I visited, I wasn't the only one in on the joke. The Mill was packed with laptop toting, coffee drinking, bread curious folks. Four toast specials were written on the specials chalk board that morning that included different types of Josey Baker's bread topped with everything from cinnamon and sugar, nutella, cream cheese and a more basic butter and strawberry jam, which I chose.
I watched the toast master in back slice, toast, sometimes burn, and then slather butter, sea salt and a freshly prepared strawberry jam on a thick cut sesame bread. Was it good? Yup. Will I need to fly back up to San Francisco to keep my toast fix going? Nope.
Cowgirl Creamery - Cheese Toasties
So I asked San Francisco what else they could do with bread, and they happily replied. They can melt copious amounts of cheese on it like they do at local Cowgirl Creamery's Sidekick Cafe & Milk Bar in the Ferry Building. The whole Cowgirl Creamery operation is just an hour north of the city and they produce a wide range of products using their neighbor's fresh milk from Straus Family Creamery. You can find both Straus and Cowgirl products in many local high end grocery stores.
It was hard to choose where to eat in the Ferry building with fabulous looking mushrooms and meats tugging at my belly, but I was singularly focused on my carb quest and went with the cheese toasties from Cowgirl's Sidekick Cafe. The open face sandwich was slathered with a sharp, melted Cabot Clothbound Cheddar over caramelized onions and maple mustard, served on crusty Acme brea from next door. It hit the spot and about 3 others, but there was more research to be done.
Bar Tartine - Goat cheese Toast
I built on each toast experience and Bar Tartine completely upped the ante and changed the game with their goat cheese toast with peas and mushrooms. I was attempting to have a quasi healthy lunch while continuing my quest so I ordered my bread product with some vegetables.
Two crisp halves of toast arrived, stacked high with a bounty of bright colors from the forest. Layer one included whipped goat cheese resting underneath English peas that had been sautéed in olive oil, followed by tender, but meaty maitake mushrooms that gave way to the sprawling arms of pea tendrils with an enormous dollop of goat cheese that seemed to serve as a paper weight to hold all of the ingredients down. It was rich and vibrant, hitting all the right notes.
Craftsman & Wolves - The Rebel Within
Once I hit toast nirvana at Bar Tartine, I moved onto other bread products and turned my sights to the hip patisserie, Craftsman & Wolves in the Mission District. Things are pretty interesting at Craftsman & Wolves where you're not just going to find a basic croissant sitting sad and lonely with butter as its only companion. Instead, that croissant is going to have prosciutto, asiago and harissa in it. Or for the indecisive, there's a vanilla, chocolate and smoked almond scone to tease all of your sweet teeth.
What I was here for was The Rebel Within, and not just because it's fun to say. When I saw the plain looking Rebel, I thought, this doesn't look all that dangerous or deceptive, but then I dug into to reveal the oozing goods. A soft cooked farm egg spilled out its yolk and was wrapped between savory sausage, sweet green onion and salty asiago cheese. That will beat an egg McMuffin any day.
Le Marais - Chocolat et Banane Croissant
I had to stop at the French bakery Le Marais, not just because it was French, and not just because its named after the neighborhood I used to live in, but rather because they were trying to elevate their own classic croissant. Le pain au chocolat est très bon, but a croissant with chocolate and banana inside? I was now on a crusade, and couldn't leave any stone unturned.
Did it live up to the hype in my head? Mais oui!
Kin Khao - Thai food
After exhausting breakfast carbs it was time to incorporate them into ethnic cuisine at the newly opened Thai restaurant, Kin Khao. The talent in the kitchen comes from Bangkok, as well as 2 Michelin star Manresa where I dined later in the week (stay tuned for a dedicated post on that gastronomical experience).
Don't expect boring pad thai and one note curries as Kin Khao is not afraid of some spice, as well as bold flavor combinations such as a trio of rabbit - loin, saddle and meatballs, with a spicy Kiew Wan curry paste, thai apple eggplant, and fiery Bird's Eye chili. There was so much going on in the dish that I was smiling while simultaneously tearing at the heat. Tears of joy. Then there was the Saeng-wah salad featuring a delicious medley of wild gulf prawn ceviche with crispy catfish, blended together with ginger and of course more chili. Thank goodness for Singha beer!
What's a carb fest without rice cooked in chicken fat with a softer ginger poached chicken and intense chicken consommé. Delicate and flavorful all at the same time. You could start or finish with the crisp white cakes with an earthy curry mushroom mousse. It's rich and creamy and a must order at either end of the meal.
Rich Table - Mushroom Dusted Beignets with Raclette
It was hard to know where to go from here. I felt like I had hit every interesting bread combo I could think of, but there was one final surprise. I had heard many good reviews on the farm to table restaurant, Rich Table so I went to the très cool neighborhood of Hayes Valley to investigate. The freshest of ingredients were brought out in unique combinations like tender lamb shanks embracing green strawberries and yogurt on a garganelli pasta. Fresh cheese, peach and pecan topped roasted asparagus and made me feel that I was sitting in the middle of a farm with my fork and knife.
Don't worry, I didn't forget the mission. A recommended dish on the "bites" menu was an order of mushroom beignets. Yes, I was confused as well and then these light puffs of dough came out with a faint dusting of dried porcini which was sweet and savory all in one. But wait, that's not all. This poofy donut comes with its own raclette dipping sauce. Raclette is the cheese dipping choice of champions and together the dish was a show and meal stopper and perfect close to a carb-a-licious San Francisco stay.
San Francisco delivered on my carb quest in spades, or rather, pounds. Luckily for me, the many hills provided a great break between, well, breaking bread. And now it's back to the garden for fruits and vegetables!