César & JoJo

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Oakland is home to Derrick Schneider of Obsession With Food, his wife Melissa, and their friend Julie. I crossed the bridge to join them for dinner at César, a restaurant with two locations: one there in Oakland, the other in Berkeley right next door to Chez Panisse. As far as I remember, César the man spent time working at Chez Panisse (as most Bay Area chefs do) before opening up his own place. This won’t be a thorough review because, frankly, I’m getting burnt out writing about San Francisco grub (I’ve been back in New York since Friday!) so I will point out the dishes that I liked the most on this tapas-style menu.

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Pizza Delfina

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My reasons for going to San Francisco were manifold: to see the Golden Gate bridge, to eat lots of food, and–very high on the list–to meet one of my all-time favorite food bloggers, Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks. Heidi’s star is on the rise these days: with the release of her GORGEOUS new cookbook, Super Natural Cooking, she’s about to take the world by storm. Have you seen it yet? Held it in your hands? You really should, it’s a beautiful thing.

For our rendezvous, Heidi–who lives close to where I was staying–gave me a call Wednesday morning and invited me to join her for coffee at Tartine before lunch at Pizza Delfina. We walked over together (I knew it was her coming down the street because of the trail of 101 cookbooks she left in her wake) and had an instant rapport. We talked shop (how does she make her site so spiffy?), we talked food (Tartine’s baked goods are truly remarkable), and we talked cameras (she fixed my manual mode so it shoots now in 400. What does that mean?!)

And then it was time to mozy on over to Pizza Delfina, the more casual extension of the highly regarded restaurant Delfina. And guess who joined us? None other than Bruce Cole of the late Saute Wednesday and current editor (and owner) of Edible San Francisco. I never expected to meet Bruce and I was really glad he came: he’s really low-key and really fun.

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My Dinner at Chez Panisse

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According to Gourmet Magazine’s most recent ranking, Chez Panisse is the second best restaurant in America. It’s one notch below Alinea, which serves future food–high concept, experimental, visionary–and one notch above the French Laundry, which offers classic refinement and sophisticated grandeur. How does Chez Panisse fit in there, there at the pinnacle of American cuisine? It’s much older than the other two–almost two decades older. Its message, innovative and exciting back when it started–fresh seasonal food, simply prepared–has spread so far and wide, it can’t really be new any more, can it? Why should anyone make an effort to eat at this restaurant, this old war horse, this has-been with a superiority complex? The answer, I think, is simple: it delivers.

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The Slanted Door

Do pictures of food speak for themselves? Can you tell if I loved my lunch at The Slanted Door by images alone? Let’s find out. I’m not going to say any more–just going to post lunch pictures with labels so you know what you’re looking at. Now it’s your turn to be the critic: if you were served this food, would you be happy?

Green papaya salad with tofu, rau ram and roasted peanuts:

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A16

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This review will be easy. I loved A16.

When Fatemeh suggested it for dinner, I didn’t know what to think. I hadn’t heard of it. It sounded like a steak sauce. Was it really worth giving up one of my dinner slots for this? Well the answer, as I can tell you now that I’ve been, is emphatically: yes.

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Tartine

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If I thought more people knew the song, I would write this post to the tune of Dolly Pardon’s “Jolene.” It would go: Tartine…tartine…tartine…tartine…I’m begging of you please don’t take away my tart. (If you don’t know the song, I think you should buy it or download it illegally. It’s fun!)

My rental car situation is tricky. Because I rented a car, I feel like I should drive everywhere but since many destinations are within walking distance of Raife’s apartment, that would be ridiculous. And frustrating, because parking here is like trying to put a camel through the eye of a needle. Wait. A needle in the eye of a camel. What expression am I thinking of?

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Zuni

Don’t go to Zuni. Do go to Zuni. It’s overrated. It’s underrated. It’s passed its prime. It’s a perennial. It’s a legend. You have to eat there.

Welcome to the Zuni Cafe, the subject of much debate in the San Francisco dining scene:

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I’ve known about Zuni for a very long time. I’ve had the Zuni cookbook for a very long time. One of the biggest reasons I wanted to come to San Francisco was to eat at Zuni. And on Sunday night, right after my meet-up, Raife joined Sam, Fred and I for dinner at this relatively new, but no less significant, San Francisco institution.

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San Fran Readers Rock

Thanks San Fran readers who came to my meet-up!

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From left, that’s Sabrina of Yum Sugar, my old college friend Kristen of Give Me Some Food, my new college friend and a person who has dreams about me and Craig adopting her and several other children, Catherine of Food Musings and the mysteriously shrouded couple behind Bunrab.

Bunrab has an amazing story that I’m going to share with you now. When these guys got married, around 1995, they were scouting out locations in the Napa valley. They stumbled into Yountville and saw a man tending a garden in front of a cozy house and they assumed the man was a gardener. “We’re looking for a place to get married,” they said, “is this place available?”

“Well,” he said, “in a month it will be. I’m opening a restaurant here.”

So Bunrab came back a month later and decided to check it out. “The food was extraordinary,” they said, so they booked the place. It hadn’t received much attention yet, and they loved the pristine setting.

The place, it turns out, was The French Laundry. The man was Thomas Keller. And Bunrab was the first couple in French Laundry history to get married there. They’re now regulars and closely affiliated with the restaurant, but can you imagine randomly choosing a place to get married and having that place turn out to be one of the greatest restaurants not only in America but in the entire world?

Bunrab, if I give you some money, will you pick some stocks for me? I have a feeling you’ll be good at it!