Archive | Food Travelogues RSS feed for this section

Food Travel Bucket List

19 Aug

I must be getting old as I am making a bucket list. I’ve seen many travel bucket lists out there, and as much as I enjoy reading those, I know I’m not the type that enjoys traveling to a destination unless my taste buds can also be satisfied. So here’s the beginnings of making Donna’s Food Travel Bucket List. Help me out by answering the following:

1. Your overall favorite food destination (city/region).

2. Favorite city/region for high end dining.

3. Favorite city/region for casual/low end dining.

4. A place that doesn’t get much food press but pleasantly surprised you.

5. Favorite place for an outside the restaurant food experience (cooking school? food festival? milking cows on dairy farms? deep sea fishing?)


The Best Little Soup Dumpling in the World

13 Dec

It’s been quiet around the blog lately as my busy semester comes to an end today.  But I did want to share a few photos from my better half, who spent the last week in the Shanghai area and squeezed in a visit to Jia Jia Tang Bao.  If you’re a fan of the soup dumpling (xiao long bao, shorthand XLB for true enthusiasts), you’ve probably heard of this little joint, regarded by many as the best XLB in Shanghai (which translates to best XLB in the world?)  As a child, I visited my grandparents in Shanghai every summer and grew up obsessed with this particular type of dumpling.  The last time I had the pleasure of visiting Jia Jia Tang Bao was back in 2007, and can still remember the richness of their crab and pork dumplings, semi-translucent thin skinned dough with orange crab oil oozing out the top.  I don’t know of any restaurants in Austin that serve this, but long for the day when my tastebuds are reunited with the gushing hot soupy filling in these little delicate sacks of crab and pork.

Jia Jia exterior (Liyuan Lu location):

Jia Jia employees making XLB:

Pork soup dumplings in their steamer:

Hello soup!  Note that authentic XLB doesn’t employ soy sauce for seasoning the filling (soup is almost clear, not brown).

That last photo is food porn at its best for a soup dumpling enthusiast like me.

Jia Jia Tang Bao
62 Liyuan Lu near Nanchezhan Lu
Shanghai, China
(Google Map)

Jia Jia also has a more popular location near People’s Square at 90 Huanghe Lu near Fengyang Lu.

Eating Like a College Student in Shanghai (China Trip – Day 1)

10 Nov

In case you had any doubt that flying on a commercial airline has lost all its olden day glamour, I invite you to hop on any US airline for an economy class flight across the Pacific.  I thought I was mentally prepared for the discomfort of the 20+ hour trip duration (including a 3 hour layover at SFO, thanks for directing me to one of the roomiest seats in coach), the potential jetlag, and the bad airline food (ate an airy focaccia pizza from Caffe Del Mondo in SFO’s Terminal G before the 13.5 hour flight to Shanghai), but I was dead wrong.

I could pick around the frozen dinner quality orange chicken stir-fry and mystery meal oval of Salisbury steak.  I could scrape off the excessive oozing mayonnaise from the turkey sandwich that had less meat than dressing.  I even laughed whole heartedly at the flight attendant’s joke that the Gallo Merlot was a “2011 vintage” since the year was curiously missing from the label.  I was, however, unprepared for our in-flight snack of “Chinese noodles.”

It’s exciting to know that I would fly 17.5 hours just for the chance to indulge in an old college favorite.  I’ll give the airlines credit for one thing, the airline Ramen noodles tasted just like regular Ramen noodles, and that’s more than you can say for most of the other food.

We somehow suffered through the long hours of no in-flight entertainment (something was wrong with the audio system) playing cards and reading under an Itty Bitty Booklight (the reading lights didn’t work in our section).  Our only distraction (and delight) was the completely unobscured, magnificent view of icy northern Siberia.

We arrived in Shanghai late Sunday afternoon.  My legs were stiff but I was excited.  Behold, my first ride on the world’s first magnetic levitation train, zooming from Shanghai Pudong International to the city in a mere 12 minutes.

Since we were riding the MagLev during an off peak period, the train capped its top speed at 190 mph.  Had we been riding during peak periods, the train would’ve reached top speed at 268 mph. 

Suburban Shanghai became a blur through the panoramic windows as the MagLev train tilted left and right through the curvaceous turns of the track.  I couldn’t make out much through the blurred vision, just widespread construction everywhere.  With all the tall buildings, how do you know where downtown is?

The MagLev train ride ended at the Longyang Road Metro Station, but we still had a ways to go.  We chose to stay at the visitor’s hotel at East China Normal University just west of central Shanghai, but still connected to the heart of the city by the metro system.  Mom was staying at ECNU chaperoning her class of American college students for a summer cultural immersion experience.  Like the lot, we also wanted to experience campus life at a Chinese university, even if it’s just a sneak peek.

As soon as we checked into our basic hotel room and cleaned up a bit, it was time to head out for a late dinner.  ECNU, like any other Chinese university, has a little area known as “xiao chi jie,” or “little eats street,” just outside its gates.  Two blocks of quick service restaurants and street vendors, all offering cheap but satisfying alternatives to poor college students tired of cafeteria dining.  Unsure of the street food situation in the area, we cruised through stall after stall of grilled meats, wok fried noodles and rice, savory pancakes, and fascinatingly, spicy boiled crawfish,

before settling on a Sichuan style restaurant at the end of the block.  Sichuanese in suburban Shanghai + half empty restaurant = an average casual dining experience.  I should’ve known better, but between the jet lag and being overwhelmed with the excitement and anxiety of being in a new place, my chowhound radar was off.  This restaurant put its own Hangzhou (a city directly southwest of Shanghai) spin on Sichuanese food.  It’s not surprising, seeing as how Sichuanese food is the most frequently exported style of cuisine domestically in China, sort of like how Tex-Mex is ungraciously exploited all over the US.  Sichuan food is all the rage in Shanghai, with every mom and pop pair trying to get in on the action.

Our meal included a slightly bland plate of water boiled white fish (“water boiled” in Sichuanese cuisine means cooked in a pool of hot oil) on top of bean sprouts,

a tasty plate of twice cooked pork made with local Hangzhou peppers instead of Sichuan peppers, making for a milder version of the Sichuanese classic,  (The green peppers, when eaten by themselves, had great flavor despite the tameness.)

a delicately (perhaps too delicately, the broth hardly had any seafood essence) flavored tofu and mussel stew that definitely suited east coast Chinese taste more than that of the Sichuan mountains,

and a simple plate of wok fried fresh baby bok choy, which was a welcome change after all that frozen and reheated airplane food.  Total damage: 150Y ($21).

Though I was full, I was not satisfied with solely eating inoffensively mediocre food on my first day in China.  My audacious side set in (a few swigs of that Shanghai rice wine probably helped), street food here I come!  But where to start?  There were so many options but so little room left in the stomach. 

I wasn’t in the mood for seafood, so it was a definite “no” for Shanghai-fied Cajun crawfish and grilled oysters.

But even within the non-seafood-on-a-stick category, I still had plenty to choose from: mushrooms, eggplant, cucumbers, tofu, unidentified meat and offal, and even some stuff that looked like hot dog franks.

All over China, Uyghur street vendors sell their famous mutton kebabs seasoned heavily with cumin (though I suspect that the popularity of the street vendor career among Uyghurs is more so the result of social immobility due to societal biases than an innate culinary desire, but alas, this is a food blog and not a political blog).  The popular original has evolved into limitless options as witnessed in the stall photographed above.  I stuck with the original street food on a stick, the mutton kebab, while my partner-in-crime braved more adventurous choices, chicken hearts and chicken gizzards.  We watched as our post-dinner snacks were doused in seasoning and cooked over the pit grill.

Time to dive in!

The mutton kebab was tender and juicy, but overseasoned (someone grab me a bottle of water, stat!).  The chicken gizzards had a strange texture with a crunchy exterior and a chewey interior, and required extensive toothwork.  The chicken hearts were surprisingly palatable.  They tasted just like chicken meat but lacked the stringiness of the muscle texture.  At 2Y (less than 30 cents) per stick, it was quite the affordable adventure. 

The combination of an adrenaline rush from exploring street food and jet lag is a dangerous thing.  It was almost midnight but we had caught our second wind. 

We decided to trek across the ECNU campus to the local TrustMart, a discount supermarket, to stock up on some essentials like bottled water and two-ply toilet paper.  We were befuddled by the masses of people walking around the university’s running track at such a late hour, thinking it was some sort of organized event.  As it turns out, Chinese university students enjoy brisk late night walks/runs… in their normal street clothes.

Supermarkets in China are amazing.  The bakery and deli section is extensive beyond imagination, at least quadruple the size of that of my neighborhood Kroger.  The seafood is alive, the mushrooms are exotic, and the Pringles are sophisticated with flavors like “salad de provence,” “mediterranean meze”… and “stewed eggplant”???

I wonder why they don’t just make these chips from eggplant.

And just as the energy was quick to come, we were crashing fast.  Groggily standing in the checkout line (though not too groggy to notice the individually packaged flavored condoms placed right next to the gum and candy, I thought this was a repressed country?), I couldn’t wait to crawl into bed.  It had been more than 30 hours since I had slept lying down.  But as much as I looked forward to getting a good night’s sleep, I was more excited about the agenda for the next day, a XLB (xiao long bao) tour of Shanghai.

Back to Introduction

Are We Coming or Going? (China Trip – Introduction)

30 Oct

It was my better half’s first trip to China.  Actually, his first visit to Asia. 

“I want to see as much as possible.  I know you can’t see everything in two weeks, but I want to see a lot.”  He was, after all, going on one of those “trips of a lifetime.” 

Though I’d been there before, I wanted to see it all, too.  There were so many historic sites I hadn’t been to, so many corners I hadn’t explored, so many regional specialties I hadn’t tasted.

So we packed our two week trip full of action.  We were going to hit up all the tourist essentials, The Great Wall, Forbidden City, Summer PalaceQin Terracotta ArmyGiant Buddha of Leshan… we even managed to squeeze into our itinerary a stop in Chengdu, capital of that world famous Sichuan cuisine and home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where I would voluntarily (and gladly) fork over an exorbitant amount of money to look deep into the round, soulful eyes of a toddler panda, extend my welcoming arms, and be rewarded with the cuddly hug that I would remember for the rest of my life. 

Oh yes, we were going.

“But when are you coming to Shanghai?  What about Nanchang?”  Echoed my grandparents across the Pacific.

Oh yes, we were coming, too.

No trip to China was complete without a visit to the two cities where my relatives reside.  To them, it was a homecoming of sorts.  But was I going to visit China or coming home to China?


I dread the inevitable question I’m always posed a few minutes into a conversation with a stranger.

“Where are you from?”

If they’re from the DFW area, I’ll say “Carrollton.”  If I’m in another state, I’ll say “Dallas.”

They look at me with a puzzled half smile.

“My parents live in Arkansas.  I went to high school there.”

The wrinkles on their foreheads deepen with confusion.

“But you could say I’m mostly a Texas girl.  I’ve lived here most of my life.”

They give up.  But by their forced, unnatural nodding, I know it’s not the answer they were looking for.

“I was born in Shanghai.”

Bingo!  A wave of relief washes over their faces.  And by these conversations, a trip to Shanghai, my birthplace and home to everyone on my dad’s side of the family, and Nanchang, where I spent my early childhood years and home to everyone on my mom’s side of the family, is definitely a homecoming.

Coming or going, we had a plan together for a trip that would excite our senses, particularly the gustatory senses. 

Starting out in Shanghai, where the cuisine is all about light and delicate flavors (and where we’ll eat our weight in xiao long bao, or soup dumplings), to Nanchang, where we’ll sample native, semi-rustic Gan cuisine which has practically no exposure outside of China, to Chengdu, where our nostrils will run dry from the overdose of Sichuan chilis and peppercorns, to Xi’an, home of China’s largest Muslim quarter and its famous mutton and lamb heavy cuisine, and finally to Beijing, city of imperial cuisine and that oh-so-famous duck dish.

Our culinary undertakings were accompanied by many anticipated cultural adventures and one unexpected natural disaster whose aftermath resonated throughout the trip.  As it turned out, our two week stint in the Middle Kingdom was the trip of a lifetime.

Onto Day 1

Summer Wedding Weekends: Brunch at the Inn at Dos Brisas

9 Oct

As I mentioned before, I try to take opportunity of Sunday brunch to do some chowhounding after all the catered meals at out-of-town weddings.  I thought my options for a wedding in Brenham, Texas would be slim (biscuits and sausage gravy or a sausage biscuit?) until I remembered a thread on about the only 2008 Mobil five-star restaurant in Texas.

Welcome to The Inn at Dos Brisas, a luxury country getaway in Washington, Texas that offers four casitas each at the bargain price of $575 per night.  Pleasures at the ranch include horseback riding, fishing, hiking, skeet shooting, a full service spa, and of course, the fine dining restaurant overlooking an infinity pool.

As a full weekend at Dos Brisas is not in my budget (and likely won’t ever be), we stayed at The Inn at Best Western in Brenham instead.  Not Mobil rated, in case you were wondering.  Despite the Best Western front desk clerk’s “swear on her children’s life” that the breakfast at the attached diner was “to die for”, we lived out our whimsical desires and headed for Dos Brisas for Sunday brunch instead.

Driving through the bluebonnet filled plains of southeast Texas, it’s easy to see why the owners chose the site of Dos Brisas.  A manageable hour and a half drive will get the prospective guests out of Houston’s concrete jungle and into this serene haven of deep blue skies and lush greenery with no end in sight.  With the intense midday sun, squinting as hard as possible, I still could not look directly at gleaming white stucco walls of our destination.  This must be a perfect match for the Hollywood vision of a modern Texas ranch.

We were the first guests to arrive on this Sunday.  Thus, we ordered a couple of mimosas and enjoyed the view of the inifinity pool from the comfortable lounge chairs before marching inside the restaurant to be seated, an herb garden struggling in the brutal Texas summer sun to our left and a pair of horses lackadaisically munching on grass in the distance.  I rolled the pulp from the fresh orange juice in my mimosa back and forth on my tongue, and a sense of calm rivaling that of the pristine white flour beaches of Tulum came over me. 

My stomach growled.  I left the romanticism at the infinity pool and quick-toed my way into the dining room, where we were seated at a cozy two seater table with a stool placed curiously halfway between the chairs.  The reservation was for two, and we were not expecting any kneeling companions for the meal.  But before I had the chance to show my social illiteracy, the waiter came by to greet us and moved my purse (that I had placed on the carpeted floor next to my chair) onto the stool.

A purse stool!  Of course!  Mobil four-star rated restaurants take note, the addition of this integral piece of furniture may greatly help your case for the upgrade to five-star.  My purse will never dine anywhere without its own seat again.  Right, purse?

Joking aside, Dos Brisas brunch is a prix fixe three course meal for $49.  The diner has a choice between three selections for each course.  Scanning through the seasonal menu, I was surprised at the conservativeness of the protein choices: salmon, chicken, or wagyu beef ($26 supplement).  I’m accustomed to seeing at least one or two choices on high end menus that would shock children (cute fuzzy bunnies, booger-like oysters, “what the heck is that” offal, etc).  But Dos Brisas’ menu is completely shock-free for the chicken finger-loving crowd, with the most foreign phrase being “wasabi tobiko.” 

Let me dial the sarcasm back a little and say that I completely understand the reasoning behind the conservative menu.  Given its location and the demographic profile of the patrons Dos Brisas is trying to attract, the menu couldn’t be more appropriate.  The tables around us started filling up, families (some with young children) were most common, followed by “girlfriend getaway” groups of middle aged women in sophisticated Sunday dresses, each seemed delighted with the brunch choices.  It’s just not a menu that excited me right away.

Then the pastry basket came, and the carbohydrate feast put me in a much more positive mood.

The pastry selection included a craisin roll, chocolate donut holes, a kolache, a pluot muffin, and a memorable warm and buttery starfruit muffin with a crusty sugar-glazed top.  I could’ve used more starfruit in the muffin for more acidity and moisture, but props to Dos Brisas for incorporating less common fruits like pluots and starfruit.

An amuse bouche of cantaloupe, watermelon, apple, peach, and grapefruit in their own juice with a touch of vanilla oil set a fresh start to brunch.

For the first course, I chose blue crab cake with nettle puree and estate grown micro greens.

The crab cake had great flakey texture, large chunks of tender crab meat gently held together with a crisp crust.  No mushy lump crab meat here.  The curious choice of the green nettle puree beneath the crab cake was flavorless, leaving one to ponder its purpose other than adding a splash of color to the plate.

Across the table, a garden tomato salad with fried mozzarrella and 25 year old Balsamic vinegar.

A beautiful plate of assorted red, yellow, and green tomatoes with airy fried mozzarrella balls whose batter had the texture of funnel cake.  The 25 year Balsamic vinegar was surprising sweet and the flavors worked well with the mozzarrella and the tomatoes… minus the green tomatoes, which were far too acidic and didn’t seem to belong on the plate.

Intermezzo was an organic mixed berry sorbet.  The serving plate looks odd from the angle of this photo, but there is actually a hemispherical indention where the scoop of sorbet sits, so the diner gets a small perfect sphere of sorbet.

My first thought when I took a spoonful of this sorbet onto my tongue was that it’s so perfectly creamy with no hint of iciness.  But as the sorbet melted in my mouth, I found it to be so rich that it seemed inappropriate for a between-the-courses palate cleanser.  My mouth was left with that sticky, “I just ate a bowl of ice cream,” feel.  Perhaps it would’ve been better served as a dessert. 

For my entree, I chose the grilled organic breast of chicken with rutabaga puree and truffled brussel leaves. 

Pre-slicing the chicken breast may be good for presentation purposes, but it also dries out the chicken faster.  My first few bites were a lot more enjoyable than the rest.  The brussel sprouts are estate grown, and one can appreciate the difference in its crisp flavor and unrivaled freshness. 

Across the table, the Wagyu beef with fiddlehead ferns, morels, and wild asparagus in a red wine demi glace.

My companion had requested the filet to be rare, and it was a bit overdone (the camera flash makes the interior appear brighter/redder).  However, the beef suffered the same fate as the chicken, just on the dry side of enjoyable, and thus was missing that buttery texture that we love so much about Wagyu beef.  And again, it was the fresh vegetables on this plate that really stole the show, including those fiddlehead ferns which I’d been wondering about ever since I first saw them at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

There was a considerable wait between the main course and the dessert course.  I didn’t mind since we were seated close to a window and the outside scenery was breathtaking.  However, when my blackberry tartlet finally arrived, the chambord ice cream accompanying it was already mostly melted and the caramel sauce had thickened to have a crunchy crust.

The plating of this dessert is curious as it was laborious to put the tart, ice cream, and caramel sauce together into one bite.  When I finally managed to get the combination into my mouth, the elements worked beautifully together with the tartness of the blackberry balancing the intense sweetness of the chambord ice cream. 

Across the table, chocolate covered peanut butter cheesecake with a Valrhona ganache.

It was simply too much chocolate.  What peanut butter?  What cheesecake?

Our bill arrived.  I had to check twice to make sure that was indeed what I thought it was-a handwritten bill in fancy font.  A nice unexpected touch, a fitting detail in this almost fairy tale-like environment.

I was a little surprised that gratuity was already accounted for, but with the attentive service during our meal I had no protests either.

Overall, the strength of Dos Brisas is really its unique fantastical setting.  In my mind, the highlight of the food were the estate grown vegetables as the proteins were unadventurous and the desserts were just mediocre.  I would, without hesitation, come back for a vegetarian tasting menu highlighting the estate grown greens (which Dos Brisas offers at $115 per person for eight courses).  I realize that perhaps the protein choices were “extra safe” for a brunch meal, thus I would also consider returning for dinner as Scott at had some positive experiences at Dos Brisas.

Was it deserving of the sole five-star Mobil rating in the state of Texas?  Based on food alone, I would have to say no.  But dining out is also about the atmosphere, and Dos Brisas’ peaceful, sprawling Texas ranch is definitely five-star beauty.

Summer Wedding Weekends: Brunch at Shade in Houston

30 Jul

I am solidly in the middle of that age range where I spend every other summer weekend at weddings.  And although they’re always a blast, weddings involve extensive, sometimes multi-meal, catering, and therefore equate to travelling without much chowhounding.  That is until the day after the celebration, when Sunday brunch provides an opportunity for some independent culinary exploration.

First, off to Houston.

The Heights is a neighborhood close-in to downtown Houston going under slow gentrification.  The streets are mixed with turn-of-the-century historic bungalows and new construction, multi-story townhomes.  The urban revitalization process in The Heights, though more sluggish than that of its sister community Montrose to the south, has allowed for some (emphasis on “some”) integration between the existing community and the recent influx of higher-income residents.  It’s not often that a neighborhood can simultaneously boast over a dozen taquerias, an opera troupe, and a monthly arts market within its boundaries.

Shade is an upscale-casual restaurant owned by Heights residents Claire Smith and Russell Murrell.  Located in a historic strip full of antique shops, light and bright Shade clearly stands out.  The interior decor and the menu both have modern spins on classics to match.  The dinner menu features fun comfort cuisine with items like chicken fried quail and fried shrimp and bacon cheese grits as well as fare that depart from southern tradition, such as wasabi and cucumber crusted snapper and chimichurri yogurt marinated leg of lamb.

The brunch menu isn’t as extensive as the dinner menu, but still offers the diner quite a range of options.  Don’t miss the pastry plate to start your meal. 

A small pastry plate ($7) offered more than we had anticipated.  The selection included not-too-sweet chocolate banana bread, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate croissant, cinnamon currant scone, a bacon and cheese rollup (like a savory cinnamon roll), and solid versions of the classic blueberry muffin and cinnamon roll.

For the entree, I went along with Shade’s creative-comfort cuisine slant and ordered the bacon, lettuce, and fried green tomato sandwich ($9.75).

Although I love the idea of the BLFGT sandwich, the actual product fell short in many ways.  The first thing that struck me was how over-salted the cornmeal batter was on the green tomatoes.  I looked forward to tasting how the tart green tomato worked in place of a ripe red tomato in this classic sandwich.  However, with the too-salty cornmeal batter, it was hard to taste the delicate flavors of the green tomatoes.  After a few more bites into the sandwich, the cornmeal batter became soggy and began to fall apart due to the moisture from the rather thick layer of mayonnaise between the fried green tomatoes and the toasted wheat bread.  I understand that the mayonnaise is there to add moisture to the sandwich, as green tomatoes (especially deep fried) aren’t nearly as juicy as their ripened red counterparts.  But the mayonnaise quickly destroys the integrity of the entire sandwich, what a dilemma.  I would suggest serving this sandwich in an open-faced style with just one slice of wheat bread.  The sandwich felt carb-heavy between the thick slices of bread and the cornmeal batter.  Plus, it was too big of a portion for one person.  Less bread would be an easy way to alleviate the necessity for so much mayonnaise on this BLFGT (and bring the portion size down to something reasonable).

The deviled egg that came with the sandwich (hidden in the photograph behind the sandwich) was solid, though.

My companion opted for a lighter entree, the Mediterranean plate ($10.50).

Both the hummus and the tabouli exceeded expectations in the sense that Shade isn’t a Mediterranean restaurant.  From a personal preference perspective, I found the creamy hummus a tad on the bland side and would’ve preferred more garlic.  Sweet, juicy cherry tomatoes accompanied balsamic vinegar marinated mozzarella.  But the surprising winner on the plate was the al dente orzo done in a pasta salad style with a light, creamy dressing topped with sweet, dried cherries.

Even though there is some unevenness to the food, I still feel Shade embodies many elements of the quirky cool neighborhood restaurant that everyone wants to have nearby.  The diverse, affordable menu appeals to those with safe tastes as well as those who enjoy keeping their tastebuds on the adventurous edge.  Shade also has the advantage of being located in a neighborhood full of artsy and historic charm.  It is a gem worth polishing.  I can only hope the creative kitchen is striving to improve and hasn’t “settled” in their two years of operation.

250 W. 19th St
Houston, TX 77008

Birthday Weekend in San Francisco – Day 3

1 Jul

We started our last day in San Francisco with a brisk morning walk along the Embarcadero, starting from the grand San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

and working our way through Rincon Park to arrive at our destination, the Ferry Building.

The Ferry Building, in addition to being a transportation link in the Bay Area mass transit system, is home to over 30 food-oriented local vendors, ranging from full service restaurants, to casual cafes, to specialty bread and cheese makers, to meat markets, to pastry and ice cream shops, etc. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the building also houses a bustling farmer’s market. In short, this place is a total foodie’s playground.

Even though we were at the Ferry Building on a Sunday when there’s no farmer’s market, there was plenty to see and taste to occupy at least a couple of hours of our time. We started the tour with a visit to Frog Hollow Farm, a storefront famous for their fruits, be it fresh or in the form of a pastry or chutney.

The fresh fruit looked enticing, but it was the pastry display case that really caught my eye.

It was difficult to narrow all that goodness down to one purchase, but I knew I had plenty more to taste through in this paradise, thus one singular juicy pear tart with a buttery, flakey shell was the winner this morning.

This little tart was a great tease, but I also bought a jar of organic fig conserve to bring home (which I later served with fresh chevre cheese and crackers at a party).

Walking just a few steps away, we arrived at Far West Fungi, a shop dedicated to the growing, distribution, and marketing of organic California mushrooms, where we saw some of the familiar:

and some of the exotic:

The inability to bring home fresh items becomes a harsh reality fast when faced with all these tempting foodie goodies. I settled for a jar of Honey Truffle Mustard instead.

Next up, a stop at Recchiuti Confections.

I somehow managed to resist the temptation of eating a dozen specialty chocolate candies right then and there and opted to take home a box of fleur de sel caramels instead.

I ate these within a week of arriving at home. Who can resist the bittersweet-salty-smokey savory combination of dark chocolate covered sea salt and caramel? Word on the street is that local chocolate paradise Doughmonkey makes an interesting version. I’ve got to go check that out.

Back at the Ferry Building it was time for more snacks, homemade potato chips at LuLu Petite to be exact.

These greaseless, perfect thickness (not too thick so that they’re hard to chew, not too thin so that they break before you even get them in your mouth) chips had an herbal aroma and just the right amount of salt. We sat outside on the benches along the backside of the Ferry Building to crunch away at these chips, feeding the pigeons with the crumbs at the bottom of the bag. And even though the air smelled a little funky, the view of the Bay was hard to beat. Looking back at the Ferry Building from the rear:

From LuLu Petite, I also purchased a jar of saffron garlic rouille that I’m not sure what to do with yet. Any suggestions?

A couple of storefronts down from LuLu Petite is Acme Bread Company, an artisan bread company whose products are all made from local organic flour.

One whiff of that good stuff and you’ll swear off the Atkins diet forever.

Enough of the snacking, time for some real food. We skipped the tempting display case at Miette

and went for appetizers at Hog Island Oyster Company where, you guessed it, we enjoyed some oysters.

Now, in all my previous encounters with oysters, I’ve learned that my digestive system doesn’t seem to tolerate them well. Nervous about the fact that I would be boarding a plane in a couple of hours, we started with just a small sampler of six, with five varieties of oysters ranging from local California stock to stuff from the Atlantic near New Brunswick. The varieties tasted subtly different, but I’m no oyster expert so I can’t tell you why or how. I do know that those are the freshest tasting oysters I’ve ever had (confirmed by the fact that I felt no digestive discomfort later), and the rice vinegar/jalapeno/cilantro/lime sauce that came with them proved addictive. I slurped down those oysters quickly and was ready for more, but knew I had to stop. There was plenty more to eat in the Ferry Building.

By the way, I had an especially hard time resisting the grilled cheese sandwich from Hog Island Oyster Company. Many tables around us were munching down on this ooziest grilled cheese I’ve ever seen. Hog Island’s version is filled with cheeses from local cheesemaker Cow Girl Creamery (who has its own storefront in the Ferry Building): Mezzo Secco, cave-aged Gruyere, and Fromage Blanc).

But onwards we march to our next and last stop of the all-too-brief Ferry Building tour, lunch at Mistral Rotisserie, where the smell of herb roasted chicken hits you before the sight of the display case becomes visible around the corner.

Lunch consisted of a juicy, flavorful to the bone half rotisserie chicken with sides of herbed polenta (a little bland, parmesan cream sauce had a viscous film like it had been sitting out a little too long) and roasted yams (a little dry). 

Overall, it was a wonderful lunch of little “tastings” from the Ferry Building Marketplace, and we only hit up about 1/4 of the places inside!  I could come back here and have something different for lunch for a month straight. 

Back at the hotel room, we had to re-arrange our suitcases half a dozen times so all of my foodie purchases would fit.  I wish I could’ve stayed longer, but even two months wouldn’t be enough time to explore all the little gems in the Bay Area.  Some foodies love the cut throat competition between New York City restaurants, some foodies love the glamour and flash of Las Vegas, but my favorite food destination in the US is, without a doubt, charming quirky San Francisco.  We will meet again.

Back to Day 2