I Burst My Belt in San Francisco: Pixar, Foreign Cinema, Omnivore Books, Wise Sons, Knead, SPQR, State Bird Provisions, Bar Tartine, Zuni, Boulibar, Humphry Slocombe, Tosca and Sightglass Coffee

People often ask, when they read posts like these, “How did you not explode eating all of that food?” Normally I answer, “Oh, I only took small bites” or “I burned it all off by walking a lot.” But the truth is, I did explode after our week, last week, in San Francisco. My hands are typing this, but my face is across the room, and you don’t want to know where my lower half is. But let me tell you, friends, it was totally worth it. We ate like kings (and queens, as the case may be) from Wednesday to Sunday and now you get to eat like kings and queens too–well, with your eyes–as I take you back through it.

Why were we in San Francisco? Well, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, Craig’s movie The Skeleton Twins was playing at the San Francisco International Film Festival but, also, Craig was invited to screen the movie–along with its stars, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader–at Pixar. For Craig, this was one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened to him.

Which is why, on Wednesday, when we were on the way to LAX, getting ready to fly to Oakland where a car was waiting to whisk us off to Pixar, it was almost a Greek tragedy when Delta called to say our flight was canceled. They rebooked us on to another flight and as we sat on the plane, two hours later than scheduled, Craig almost burst into tears when a broken down plane behind us prevented us from leaving the gate. Finally, the plane was towed away and we were in the sky, then we were on the ground, then we were at Pixar.


As we arrived, the Pixar people were finishing up watching the movie and then Craig joined Bill and Kristen on stage for a Q&A conducted by Jonas Rivera who produced Up.


Afterwards, we were toured around the building, which was pretty incredible, especially the offices: each person’s was decorated in a totally wild, fantastical way. There was an office that looked like the Tiki Room at Disneyland, another that looked like a plane that crashed in the jungle, and another that had a secret door that led to a secret tunnel you had to crawl through to get to a secret bar. Here’s a picture Jonas took of us inside (along with Kristen, Bill’s publicist Rob, Craig’s movie editor and producer Jenny Lee and her husband Cliff Chiang).


Needless to say, it was a great day.

That night, we went to dinner with Pete Doctor (the director of Up and the upcoming Inside Out), his wife Amanda, Jonas, his wife, Bill, Kristen, Rob, Jenny and Cliff at a restaurant called Foreign Cinema. We were in a private room (fancy!) and the menu was pre-set with choices in each category. I started with a little gem salad:


I chose tuna for my entree (it was a pretty hot night and that felt right):


And the chocolate pot de creme for dessert:


The next morning, I ate $4 toast at The Mill and then decided to walk to Omnivore Books. Didn’t seem so far on Google Maps, but oh man, those hills. I felt like I climbed Mount Everest getting there! But it was worth every step because it’s one of my favorite cookbook stores in the country.


Celia, who runs the place, welcomed me enthusiastically and chatted with me while I perused her enormous collection of cookbooks, food books, and everything in between. Look what I spotted right in front of the cash register:


Apparently I’m not the first!

This cover made me laugh:


All in all, I purchased four books there: Jeremiah Tower’s memoir (which I’m dying to read), an MFK Fisher book that’s soon going out of print, a British cookbook that you can’t get here in the states, and a really unique Richard Olney book with great pictures and wine pairings:


Then I bid Celia farewell and headed off to meet James Beard award winner John Birdsall for lunch at Wise Sons Deli.


John suggested the place because they double bake their rye bread, just like Langer’s here in L.A., and smoke their own pastrami. It was a pretty irrefutable take on a legendary sandwich.


We also got the smoked trout salad sandwich which definitely hit the spot (tasted a bit like whitefish, which I grew up loving).


They even make their own celery soda!


I wish I could say I liked it as much as the canned stuff, but that canned stuff is like a religious artifact: you can’t fake it.

Pretty full, John mentioned a great bakery nearby and who was I to refuse dessert? The place was called Knead and it was at the back of a restaurant unless the restaurant was also Knead? I was a little confused.


But the pastries were really excellent; we shared a Pomme d’Amour and a chocolate macaron.


Then I went to a coffee shop to try to blog about the $4 toast but realized I didn’t bring the chord that connects my phone to my computer and couldn’t download the pictures. D’oh!

That night, before the screening at SFIFF, we went with Bill and Kristen and their publicists to dinner at SPQR.


This was a wonderful surprise because Celia, earlier in the day, was telling me how great a restaurant it was and then POOF just by chance we were scheduled to eat there. They sat us at the bar and, I have to say, sitting with celebrities at dinner is a terrific way to experience a restaurant. I highly recommend it.

To start, they served us the freshest pea soup I’ve ever tasted:


I asked the waiter serving us to recommend a wine to go with dinner and he recommended this orange wine from Italy that’s made by nuns. We all loved it.


Then the food just kept coming. This beautiful plate of tuna:


A refreshing salad:




Lasagnette with mushrooms:


A manicotti like presentation with ramps and truffles:


Truffle risotto with spring vegetables:


Beet ravioli:


A sort of Italian Beef Wellington with a layer of ricotta:


At this point, we were 10 minutes away from the screening, so we just had these little chocolate nibbles and hit the road.


Here’s the restaurant itself (can you spot Team Skeleton Twins?):


It’s a really pretty place. Then it was off to the red carpet.


The audience gave the movie a standing ovation!


Afterwards, we met up with Craig’s parents who were in town for SFIFF with their friends the Brutons. Their friends’ daughter Carly was also there with her husband and none of that group had eaten, so afterwards we all wandered into a restaurant… WHICH HAPPENED TO BE THE JAMES BEARD AWARD WINNER FOR BEST RESTAURANT IN AMERICA LAST YEAR, State Bird Provisions.


Thankfully, I’d eaten there on my last visit to San Francisco, so I didn’t have to feel that bad being as full as I was after SPQR. Still it was hard to see all of that amazing food go by on the dim sum cart and not being able to muster up the appetite to eat any of it.


OK, I ate some of it. Especially dessert, since we hadn’t had dessert, really, at SPQR. This grapefruit granita and ice cream sandwich totally hit the spot:


The next day, I took Craig to the Mission so he could experience Tartine Bread for the first time. We went to Bar Tartine and ordered their platter of spreads which came with oat bread and crackers:


We also ordered some country bread because how can you miss that?


That’s some seriously excellent bread, as if you didn’t know that already.

We spent the day walking around the Mission, then it was another screening at SFIFF, then we met my friend Michael and his partner Nick for drinks, and then it was off to meet Craig’s parents and the Brutons at the famous Zuni Cafe.

It really is one of the country’s great restaurants, even after the sad passing of its creator/owner/chef Judy Rogers. Here’s Steve (Craig’s dad) and Sandy Bruton listening to a description of the oysters by our waiter:


We shared the classic platte of anchovies, celery and Parmesan:


Some of us had Caesar salads:


I had another little gem salad (it’s a California thing):


Then all of us got the chicken. Can you believe I’d never had the Zuni chicken even though I’d already been there twice? Well tonight was the night and it totally lives up to the hype.


Everyone raved about it; the chicken itself, how well it was cooked, the bread salad that came in the middle, the presentation with the mustard greens. A lovely, legendary dish.

For dessert, we shared the rhubarb crumble:


And the espresso granita:


Both great.

The next day, we met a new friend, Daniel Wikey (who works for Ten Speed Press) at The Ferry Building.


First, we walked around the farmer’s market, I bought some June Taylor Bergamot candy and spied these jarred Dirty Girl Early Girl Tomatoes:


Inside the market, we spied mushrooms:


Cowgirl Creamery cheese (we tried the chèvre; so good):


I bought McEvoy ranch olive oil (a small one for the plane), Rancho Gordo beans and chiles de Arbol, and then we went to the new restaurant from the people behind Budette’s Larder called Boulibar:


Here’s Craig and Daniel Wikey with their food:


Craig had a well-made pizza:


Daniel had the farmer’s lunch of cabbage, beans and egg:


Me? I had a salad that was pretty to look at and nice to eat, though slightly unfulfilling as a meal. (Thank God for Craig’s pizza.)


Luckily, Humphry Slocombe, the famous ice cream shop, was nearby:


I had the Secret Breakfast–made with Bourbon and cornflake cookies–and I didn’t regret it. Not one bit.


That night, we walked from our hotel in Union Square to North Beach where we’d be having dinner. Look at this pretty picture I took:


Our destination? The newly refurbished, Ken Friedman/April Bloomfield helmed Tosca Cafe:


The inside really is stunning. Take a look:


It really did feel like a place that could only exist in San Francisco. And the food was totally killer.

We started with fried baby favas (they looked like string beans) with a spicy sauce:


I had a Caesar salad that was very light and citrusy and spicy with chiles:


My entree was out of this world: house made rigatoni with a chicken liver sauce that was so rich and meaty, the waiter said it reminded him of Hamburger Helper in the best possible way. I totally agree.


Julee, Craig’s mom, had linguine with asparagus:


Craig had Bucatini Ameritriciana with guanciale:


And Steve (Craig’s dad) had the braised lamb:


For dessert, we all had the signature drink, hot cocoa made in the ancient espresso machine, spiked with Armagnac and Bourbon:


We also shared tiramisu (I loved it, though the Johnsons thought it was watery; I think it was just a lot of alcohol soaking in) and a citrusy granita:


All in all, Tosca was a top notch meal. I’d definitely go back.

And that brings us to the end of our trip. That next morning (Sunday morning), Craig and I had coffee and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches at Blue Bottle Coffee near our hotel.


Then we went to get more coffee at Sight Glass and I finished the book I was reading, The Secret History, which I enjoyed.


Then we just wandered a bit and I took this picture of Craig in front of a paint-spattered house:


At which point, our San Francisco trip came to a close. Can you believe how much we packed in? Craig, who’d always been a bit snobby about San Francisco coming from Seattle, had to confess it’s a pretty marvelous city. It’s nice to know it’s just a short plane ride away, cancelations and delays notwithstanding.

13 thoughts on “I Burst My Belt in San Francisco: Pixar, Foreign Cinema, Omnivore Books, Wise Sons, Knead, SPQR, State Bird Provisions, Bar Tartine, Zuni, Boulibar, Humphry Slocombe, Tosca and Sightglass Coffee”

  1. Robin Lasher Sterling

    I love this post! Vaughn and I are going to SF, but only for a day before heading to Berkeley for a wedding. So this is very helpful as I try to strategize our eating and drinking.

  2. That is a great list of SF places! You should add to your next time list; Nopa, Blue Plate, Ragazza, Prospect, Frances, Rich Table. All amazing.

  3. Every single meal, snack and coffee you had sounds like a selection from The Very Best of San Francisco! Here in nyc i make a special trip to get to blue bottle- their coffee is really incredible, and their cold brew iced coffee is one of my favorites. You must be so proud of Craig! I wish you both continued raging success :)

  4. Epic eating indeed! I love eating my way through SF. Next time, make your way to Devil’s Teeth Bakery. It’s about a 20 min cab ride from the city, but totally worth it. Their breakfast sandwich is amazing. I dream of it and keep asking Bon Appetit to get the recipe, but no dice thus far.

  5. I loved this post – I first discovered you and your blog after buying a copy of your first book at the bookstore across from Mijita in the Ferry Building while in SF a few years ago. It’s been so wonderful to witness (via blog) the achievements of you and Craig over the past few years. Congratulations to you both, and thanks for sharing these fantastic experiences (and recipes!).

  6. Karen@Mignardise

    Best. Weekend. Ever. Congratulations to Craig. Hope you get all your parts back together soon so you can keep blogging.

  7. chezsasha.com

    You guys sure managed to do a lot. LOL at that book cover. Western mushrooms…

    A big congrats to Craig! So awesome. Kristen Wiig in my favorite. I cried when she left SNL.

  8. OMG! I only live half an hour from SF, but this has inspired to me book a weekend in the City to burst my belt, too!

  9. I had the good fortune to have friends steer me into Tosca a couple months ago. I agree — that room is gorgeous (and the servers aren’t bad, either). The crispy pig tails are so. good. All the best parts of pork belly and chicharones combined.

  10. Thanks for making me want to go back to SF even more than I already did! No, but really, I love living vicariously through your restaurant travels.

    You should read the new Donna Tartt novel, The Goldfinch. It’s just great.

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