When Tony Bennett sings "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," I think what he means to sing is "I Left My Taste Buds in San Francisco." On a recent trip to the Bay Area, my fiancé Eric, our baby, and I ate enough to feed three elephant seals. In a city known for being a melting pot of cultures, I wasn't surprised that the food was just as diverse.
Our first meal was at Café Gratitude, which was appropriate, since we were grateful to have survived a cross-country plane trip with a five-month-old. Nestled in the Mission District, Café Gratitude is an all-vegan restaurant with a ton of raw menu items. We started with the "I Am Abundant" sampler plate — sprouted almond hummus, hempseed pesto crostini, spicy cashew nacho cheese with flax chips, olive tapenade, buckwheat crackers, spring roll, and a cup of the house soup. Eric ordered the homemade kombucha. It was icy cold, fresh, and subtle enough that I could have downed an entire glass of it.
After brunch, we caught up with our friend DJ Chad White and did the "tourist tour" — Haight-Ashbury, the Grateful Dead house, Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf, and Twin Peaks, which provided a panoramic view of the city. All that ocean air made us crave crab, so we piled back into the car.
"Chinatown is for tourists," Chad said. "Let's go to the Outer Sunset neighborhood."
We parked illegally and ran across the street to one of the many tiny establishments selling dim sum. It was very authentic ... so much so that I wasn't sure I wanted to even ask what kind of meat was in the middle of the soft, steamed white buns. The sweet BBQ pork dumpling was the best and most familiar.
Back in the car and still on the hunt for crab, we had all but given up when Chad yelled, "Stop!" He told us to park (only semi-illegally this time), and we ran across another street to Swan's Oyster Depot, one of the city's mainstays. It's been serving delicious seafood since 1912. Judging from the line extending out of the door and the 45-minute wait, it's probably not going anywhere anytime soon.
The other customers waiting in line assured us that the wait would be more than worth it. By the time we sat down and started breaking off chunks of crusty white bread to dip in the chowder, we realized they were right. The menu was a bit pricey, but if you are looking for incredibly fresh seafood, this is the place to go.
We ordered the crab salad — lettuce piled high with fresh steamed crab and a side of creamy dressing. I didn't need the dressing. The crab was so sweet, tender, and the perfect amount of salty, I could have easily finished another plate. The crab chowder was more broth-like than the traditional thick and creamy chowder, but I liked the lighter version. We also quickly polished off a plate of fresh, buttery oysters.
As much as we could have lingered, we decided to hit the road and make room for the other hungry customers waiting in the dark outside.
Although our day had been one long food-fest, we couldn't leave the city without at least sampling some sushi. A quick Google search of the words "sushi and San Francisco" brings up a mind-boggling number of results, so we took a chance and picked Crazy Sushi (it had the best reviews). Turns out, it wasn't such a crazy choice. Eric ordered a variety of sushi — and a lot — to-go.
Back in our hotel room, we shared a cup of green tea and broke out the chopsticks. Maybe it was all the walking we had done, or maybe it was because it was our last meal, but it was some of the best sushi I've ever put in my mouth. The winner was the "Black Imagine Woman," a mouthwatering combination of spicy eel, king crab, avocado, and black tobiko. I didn't think it could get any better but wondered if the "Fairytale Yellowtail" or the "Lesbionic" roll would be just as good.
I'll have to wait until our next trip to the West Coast to find out. Meanwhile, I think my taste buds, which I left in San Francisco, will do just fine without me.