Thursday, August 29, 2013

Off the Map: There's Nothing Like a Bowl of Sea Urchin in the Evening

Warm Sea Urchin with Dungeness Crab -- Anchor and Hope, San Francisco, CA
Anchor and Hope

In a continuing theme of claiming that we have "wildly misjudged" our days, we arrive at Anchor and Hope a full hour before our actual reservation, bitter thoughts about collapsing souffles rumbling around in our heads.
Sorry, Anchor and Hope, but You Have Your Work Cut Out for You to Improve Our Moods
Once again, to the great credit of San Francisco restaurant staff, they seat us right away without the slightest hint of disdain, and we prepare to consume what may very well be the most radical dish of our trip: sea urchin.
Piranha Decor, Anyone?
To give you an idea, when Vodka's mother took a look at our San Francisco itinerary (and by "took a look," we mean "perused thoroughly with a fine tooth comb"), her commentary consisted of, "Why are you eating so many weird things?"

"What's so weird?"

"Sea urchin."

"Oh.  Well, it's supposed to be good."
Let It Never Be Said That We Didn't Try "Weird Things"
At Anchor and Hope, this sea urchin comes as an appetizer with dungeness crab.  Being that we've practically "starved" today, we also ask for two entrees off of the dinner menu: an order of fish and chips and a lobster roll (in truth, we spent all of 15 seconds looking at the menu before decreeing, "They have fish and chips and a lobster roll.  Done").
Also, In Case You Feared We Have Stopped Drinking for the Day, We Have Not
Indeed, this under-the-sea theme pervades the restaurant, as the entire interior looks like something out of a fishing village on the Maine coast.  In the words of Ginger, "It's a trendy little warehouse."
Don't Be Fooled -- This Is an Alley to Deliciousness
Under the Sea... Nobody Beat Us, Try Us and Eat Us!
Unlike Cafe Jacqueline, Anchor and Hope actually IS hopping on this Friday night, yet no one but us seems to be debating the continual disappointment of a strawberry souffle ("I just kept thinking that it would get better if I kept eating it."  "Things that are bad do not get better.  They get worse.  And we get fatter").
Even This Mayonnaise Is More Souffle-Like Than That Souffle
Luckily for Anchor and Hope, few, if any, things on their menu seem to fall under the "bad spectrum," as the complimentary homemade potato chips which arrive with our wine are downright delectable.  Crisp and uber-salty, they put Blue Smoke's chips to shame (especially considering they have not evolved into one solid greasy mass by the bottom of the container).
Vodka and Ginger Stamp of Approval
Our sea urchin arrives very quickly, and despite our willingness to eat this thing, no matter how it was presented, we are secretly pleased that it has not come in its spiky shell.
We Don't Like to Have to Work for Our Food
Instead, the bright yellow streams of urchin are presented in a chowder-like substance, along with potato, crab, and lobster meat.
Not Your Mother's Chowder
The sea urchin texture tastes like the "foie gras of the sea" -- gooey, warm, and salty, it is hard to separate its flavors from the surrounding chowder, which is buttery with a hint of lemon.
Beauty in Bowl Form
Overall, the entire dish completely warrants Aida Mollenkamp's Best Thing I Ever Ate FILLED WITH ENVY coronation, and it is only the warmth of the bowl itself that keeps us from licking the remainder of the substance into our mouths.
First Sea Urchin Experience Is Deemed a Raging Success
The fish and chips and lobster roll entrees are equally pleasing, though we both mildly prefer the former dish (presumably because it comes with tartar sauce).
Give Us a Plate with Condiments and We're Instantly More Interested
The flounder in the fish and chips is fully fried but in a light, non-greasy shell, and it is very similar to the beer-battered variety from Philadelphia's Dandelion.
We Should Have Been Born British
Flounder from The Little Mermaid Would NOT Approve
While the lobster roll is scrumptious overall, we give the fish and chips a one-up over it mostly because the brioche bun seems to overwhelm the lobster meat (and even more importantly, the mayonnaise) itself (additionally, the sandwich comes with the same chips which we received at the beginning of the meal, and while they are wonderful, we've already grown a bit tired of them).
Time to Change Up the Side Dishes, Anchor and Hope
Bready McBreaderson, Mayoress of BreadyTown
Anchor and Hope's food helps to explain why the place is bustling despite its location down a rather shady alley, and we are almost pleased that we missed out on all of our Napa Best Thing I Ever Ate dining opportunities so that we could fully appreciate a meal here.
Throw Us a Lifesaver, Cause These Pounds Are Creeping on Fast
After all, being the girls who go to a restaurant and order JUST the sea urchin is a bit too far on the side of "weirdo" for even us to be comfortable with.

Anchor and Hope's Warm Sea Urchin with Dungeness Crab: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Off the Map: We'll Take a Souffle with a Side of Outhouse

Strawberry Souffle -- Cafe Jacqueline, San Francisco, CA
Cafe Jacqueline

By the time we reach Cafe Jacqueline on our second full day in San Francisco, to say we have had an "interesting" day would be an understatement.  
Here's a Clue: We Were Here. Drinking
You see, we have spent the day on a wine tour of Napa and Sonoma, where a few things happened:

1. Our tour guide, who let's just say is a "character" you can't make up, sent multiple patrons off of the bus to direct traffic in the middle of a Napa highway.

2. By pure chance, Vodka had this SAME EXACT TOUR GUIDE the only other time she had been to Napa three years ago.

3. Said tour was supposed to bring us to the Yountville, CA shopping center, which is home to not one, not two, but THREE Best Thing I Ever Ate dishes.  Said tour did NOT bring us to said shopping center, which means we actually got to EAT WHAT WE WANTED at an Italian restaurant in Sonoma, a happenstance we found oddly off-putting.
We Will Take Home ALL THE BARRELS, Please
Therefore, by the time we reach Cafe Jacqueline, we are practically starving, being that we have eaten like normal individuals, and not like food hoarders, for most of the day.  
How Quickly Our Stomachs Learn to Adapt to Massive Food Intake
We arrive at the front door of the restaurant at 5:37pm, and there is not a soul inside.  "It's bumping in there," Ginger mumbles, and we look expectantly at a small older woman wiping down the tables.  
::crickets:: ::crickets::
"Excuse me, are you open?"

"We open at 5:30," the woman calls back.  "What time is it?"

Vodka glances at her watch just as a courtesy.  "5:37."

"Then we are open!" the woman calls back.  "Sit where you like."

And with that, we are off to the races at Cafe Jacqueline.
Bathroom Tile Facade = Classy
As we learned from some through Yelping, this restaurant specializes in souffles.  Well, not just "specializes," but really ONLY makes souffles.  We are here to eat Alton Brown's EGGSTRAORDINARY favorite, the strawberry soufflĂ©, which the woman-without-a-watch assures us is on the menu today.  
Things That Are NOT on the Menu Today: Customers
When she walks away from our table, Ginger whispers in an all-knowing tone, "I can tell you right now that's Jacqueline."

"Is it?" Vodka asks, assuming Ginger learned this bit of trivia via her foray onto second-rate food sites.

"I don't know," Ginger responds without a bit of irony, and we glance around the still-vacant restaurant.  Featuring about ten tables total, to say that the decor is "shabby chic" would be generous.  In fact, it looks like the place is one bad night away from going out of business, and things are starting to verge away from "unkempt" and into "creepy" territory.
The "Multitude" of Window Decorations
"You like souffle?" Jacqueline returns to our table clutching menus, the subtext of her question being that we better say "yes," being that souffle is all she has to offer us.  We place our order for one strawberry souffle, and a waiter with a handlebar mustache soon appears for our drink selections.  To Cafe Jacqueline's credit, he returns with two of the largest pours of wine we've ever seen, which we compliment heartily.
Now You're Speaking Our Language, Jacqueline
"I can take some back if you like," he jokes (the comedy is relative in this place).

"Oh no, we've had a long day of drinking," we answer, clutching our wine glasses ever tighter. 
Keep This Stuff Flowing and Maybe We'll Forget This Place Looks Like Something Out of the Bedbug Directory
At this point, another party deigns to fill a table at the  restaurant, and our waiter shuts the door behind them with the "Closed" sign facing out.  Apparently, five customers is all Jacqueline wishes to handle at one time.
Are We Being Filmed for Some Third-Rate Reality Show? ARE WE BEING PUNK'D?!
After at least forty minutes, a giant bowl of warm souffle, topped with a hearty helping of fresh strawberries and powdered sugar, appears before us.  We place our spoons inside, raise them to our mouths, and Ginger chokes.  Vodka glances at her with little concern, the inference being that she'd like an explanation.

"I inhaled the sugar," Ginger says.  It seems someone is just a bit excited to start eating dessert. 
Death by Souffle
The outer rim of the souffle is slightly -- SLIGHTLY -- crunchy to the touch, but despite the strawberry and sugar additions, it just doesn't have much of a taste.  There's nothing bad about it exactly -- it's like a 2 star disappointment.

And then we dive deeper into the souffle bowl.
Cue Cryptic Music
"Now, I'm no connoisseur of souffles," Ginger begins, "but this is not done."  Indeed, three-quarters of the souffle bowl is filled with what can only be described as "lumpy strawberry soup" -- slimy fruit chunks, barely cooked egg whites, and the overwhelming taste of flour.  
Well, This Looks "Appetizing"
The whole thing is a bit of a disaster, and what Alton Brown ever saw it it, besides possibly the French authenticity of Jacqueline herself, is unclear.  
Really, Alton? This Is One of the BEST THINGS You Have Ever Eaten?!
Not only is this souffle bland in taste and runny in texture, but it costs $40 -- $40!  We could have purchased 20 meat cones for that price, and even if we didn't want them, they at least featured GOOD meat.  And under no circumstances are we in the mood to shell out two Andrew Jacksons for under-cooked soup.
At Least We Got a Pound of Fresh Strawberries Out of the Deal
Our waiter comes to clear our practically-full bowl and says, "I hope that wound up the afternoon for you."  This statement is met with dead silence, not just because we don't know exactly what it means, but because our mothers taught us that if you don't have anything nice to say, complain to the management.  
Wiser Words Were Never Written
And here, we know there's no worth to be had in having words with Jacqueline herself, so instead, Vodka merely asks for the location of the bathroom.

"Walk down this hall, through the kitchen, outside, and make a right," the waiter answers.

So, just to confirm, your bathroom is an outhouse, yes?
Literally, the Bathroom Is Outside. OUTSIDE!
Toilet View
Vodka follows the directions, past Jacqueline's Honey I Shrunk the Kids-sized bowl of eggs, and finds herself in a barely stable structure adjacent to the restaurant's back "garden" (similar to "comedy," the word "garden" is used loosely here).  
The Fruit of Many, MANY Chickens
After warning Ginger about what she's about to uncover on her own trip to the restroom, we head out of Cafe Jacqueline's front door, never to return again.
Even the Large Wine Pours Aren't Enough to Make Up for This $40 Nonsense
"What makes it even more disappointing is that I wanted so much to like it," Ginger says.  "I mean, the eggs looked nice and the woman was cute."  In the end, though, the only positive we can say about this place is that they gave us a lot of wine, but all the wine in the world is not worth scarfing down soupy, slimy souffle.

Or, for that matter, choking on it.

Cafe Jacqueline's Strawberry Souffle: 1 star

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Off the Map: This Coffee Is Not Worth the Nonsense

Kyoto Iced Coffee -- Blue Bottle Coffee, San Francisco, CA
Blue Bottle Coffee

The good news about our second day in San Francisco is that we don't, due to our inability to adjust off of east coast time, wake up at 5:00am.

We wake up at 4:30am.
Hopeless. We Are Hopeless
And being that we still have a solid 4 hours before we will be picked up by our wine country bus tour (and also being that sending us into wineries on empty stomachs is the surest way to get us banned from the state of California), we decide to kick off our morning with a cup of Blue Bottle Coffee.
We Need to Found a West Coast Restaurant Chain That Opens at 4:00am, Just to Serve People Like Us
Now, we have been heralded of the wonders of Blue Bottle Coffee by west coasters and San Francisco visitors in the past, but we have never been inspired enough to make our way to the Brooklyn location.  
In Truth, Not Much Gets Us to Brooklyn
Luckily, not only is this Blue Bottle shop two blocks from our hotel, but it is one of the few that also serves the Best Thing I Ever Ate BEST I EVER DRANK beverage, the kyoto iced coffee, as recommended by Chris Cosentino.
Um, Excuse Us, But Where's the Rest?
Despite our 7:30am arrival time, and the seemingly desolate location of this particular shop, there is a line out the door of Blue Bottle when we get there.  
Also, Either Someone Forgot Their Hat, Or San Francisco Has a Very Interesting Interpretation of "Art"
Because we have nothing better to do, we wait in said line without too much complaint, as Ginger manages to up both of our anxiety levels by delineating our hypothetical emergency preparedness plans: "I keep envisioning what we'll do if there's an earthquake while we're here.  It doesn't look good for us."
Grab the Cookies and Run, Just in Case
Eventually, we reach the cash register, and Ginger orders us a kyoto iced coffee, along with a skim latte and snickerdoodle cookie (Vodka) and a skim cafe au lait and ginger molasses cookie (obviously Ginger).  
Breakfast of Champions
At this point, we wait a SOLID TEN MINUTES for our coffees to be ready, as the two workers very calmly maneuver around the drip coffee and fancy-schmancy espresso machines.  The line out the door continues to grow, and no one seems remotely perturbed.

What IS this madness?
Somebody Get the Lead Out!
"This nonsense would never survive in Manhattan," Vodka mumbles as we settle down at a window seat with our plethora of beverages.  Indeed, even before tasting, we're not sure how all of this coffee could ever be worth all of this slow, waiting around business.  
Patience = Not Our Strongest Attribute
This place makes Starbucks look like the motor speedway of morning drinks, and with a $4.25 price tag on what would be considered a "tall" at Starbucks, it seems highly overpriced, even by overpriced-coffee standards.
In Other Words, This Place Is a Rip-Off of Time AND Money
We try the kyoto iced coffee first, which is pretty much a shot of coffee with a single iced cube.  
Though When We Hear "A Shot," We Expect Something Other Than Coffee, If You Know What We Mean
Is it good?  Sure.  Is it strong?  YES.  But is it GREAT?  No.  Not even a little.  
It Is ICED COFFEE -- Nothing More, Nothing Less
Our milk-based drinks are similarly underwhelming, as our favorite parts about them are the figures drawn in the foam.  
Which, For the Record, Never Disappear. "Good" to the Last Drop
Indeed, Vodka's latte has a solid inch of foam covering the top, which considering the size of the cup itself, seems to be way too much.  Ginger quips that her cafe au lait would be better with some whiskey in it, and we silently calculate if we have enough time to make our way uptown for some Irish coffee before our wine tour (sadly, we do not).
The Best Part of Waking Up Is NOT Foam Art, No Matter How Lovely
In contrast to, you know, what they're known for, Blue Bottle Coffee's cookies are fairly fantastic.  Soft and chewy, they have strong natural flavors and taste like comfort, leading us to believe that Blue Bottle should abandon the coffee all together and become a bakery.  
Now These -- THESE Are Impressive
The cookies are 100% more interesting than the drinks, which are downright tepid only five minutes after we've received them.
Ginger's Ginger Cookie
As we sip our drinks apathetically, we stare at the continually-growing line.  "What kinds of jobs do these people have that they can wait in this kind of line for coffee?" Vodka asks.  "Do they get here at 7:30 just to be at work by 9:00?"  
Ain't Nobody Got Time for That!
Indeed, while at most other coffee shops (namely, any Starbucks in Manhattan), there are long but MOVING lines, Blue Bottle's is fairly stagnant, which no one but us seems to find infuriating.
As Is the Case with Many Things In Life, We Suppose
Eventually, we manage to procure lids for our cups (which Blue Bottle keeps in a hidden corner, presumably for "environmental" purposes) and head off toward many hours of day-drinking.
Greetings Napa, We Await Our Wine Glasses
And tellingly, before we even reach our hotel, we toss the remainder of our coffees into the trash -- our precious, $4.25, endless line-worthy coffees.  Because for us, Blue Bottle, you are just not worth the nonsense.

Blue Bottle Coffee's Kyoto Iced Coffee: 3 stars