Not too long ago I traveled to San Francisco to celebrate the birthday of my favorite relative, the one-year old Ms. Venus Rose Mendoza-Grippo. I had not seen this child since she was three weeks old and I was worried she would not remember me. Once reunited it took about five minutes to reestablish the niece-uncle relationship and we were off to the races, Uncle Ben was back in town and he was ready to drop some coin on some scrumptious shit! So many new restaurants have opened since the last time I was there so we tasted some new and some old staples. Since my brother and his girl have been being parents non-stop for the past year, my visit stood as a sweet respite for them. I would be the sole babysitter while I was in town, so it should be noted that young Venus accompanied me on all but one of my meals. This child was so well behaved in each restaurant mostly due to the fact that we share the same genes and that we both just wanted to tear up some food, let’s get started.
On our first venture out alone I will admit, I was a bit nervous. They were like, “take her to the park, she loves the park.” So that’s what we did. It was still early, not even noon. We went to the park, played on the slides and the swings and interacted with other 1-2 year olds. Uncle got bored and thought, “It’s lunch time.” I strapped Venus into her stroller and we made our way to Hayes St, to a spot I’ve been lusting after for some time, the fabled Petit Crenn. Petit Crenn is a cozy, small French bistro inspired by Chef Dominique Crenn’s Mother, Grandmother and home in Brittany, France. When we arrived they had just opened so there was no wait. I walked in and got a seat. The kids that worked as servers were kind enough to tuck the stroller into a back hallway so I didn’t look like mister mom. I asked if they had a high chair but to my dismay the booster seat they had was a little to big for the young Veen so I did what any other inexperienced non-parenting uncle would do, I sat her on my lap. The wait staff said they were fine with this so we ordered. I started with four Shigoku Oysters, bedded in Washington State. I didn’t really think this through because the baby was on my lap with nothing to play with but a fork when the oysters came. She reached for one and I was like, “no no no.” It wasn’t my place to determine if the child was allergic to shellfish, maybe we will enjoy oysters one day but it was not today. As I slurped all the oysters down I gave her the shells to smash around on the tabletop. Petit Crenn was a beautiful little spot with an open kitchen. There was a stern looking attractive woman manning the cooking behind the partition who I believe could have been Chef Crenn but I wasn’t positive. She kept looking over at us and smiling at the baby but every once in a while she would shoot me a glance that read, “loose control of that baby and I’ll throw your ass out.” I found the whole situation to be adorable and hilarious. Next up was a plate for the Veen-Nut. The Little Gem salad with tarragon dressing and shaved radish. When I left the house my only dietary instructions were no dairy unless it was sheep’s milk or goats milk, no refined sugars and no peanut. This salad came with a nice size cup of goat cheese, Venus dove in. We neared the end of the salad and I wasn’t leaving without something sweet. I ordered the buttermilk panna cotta with apple, caramel, pistachio and streusel. Ooo wee was this good. I paid the bill and Venus and I were off to our next destination!
As the days passed Venus and I ventured all around the city and ate snacks and sipped cortados in the best coffee shops SF and the Nopa District had to offer. While checking Facebook one day I saw that my dear friend Stevie Lowenstien was in town. Stevie was on tour with Post Malone running his merch booth and said he had a day off. Venus and I met Stevie out and we set out to have lunch. I don’t know what happened but my bearings had gotten away from me and I walked Stevie around the city for what seemed like HOURS, I could not make a decision on lunch. I finally got my wits about myself and we settled on a soul food restaurant called Brenda’s. Brenda’s is so good; a tasty take on the Big Easy but nestled right on the edge of the Tenderloin. I need to return because there was so much I wanted to get but I couldn’t. We walked in, stowed the stroller, got a high chair and ordered. The first thing I saw was a beignet flight, NEEDED THAT. I ordered it and when they came to the table they were huge! These things were each the size of a baseball! We dove in, the flight consisted of four, plain, chocolate, and granny smith apple and a savory one coated in old bay and filled with crawfish, scallions and cheddar. I could only eat a little of each one and to be totally honest, I thought the savory crawfish one was going to be weird but it was the BEST. Imagine a doughnut that wasn’t sweet and filled with crawfish, intensely good. I had got Venus a biscuit. As she chomped on it, she rained down biscuit all around her, it was hilarious and adorable because she probably only ate ten percent of the damn thing. Stevie treated himself to a beautiful fried chicken benedict. After the beignets, I ordered the shrimp and grits because how could I not get a Creole staple like that in a place like Brenda’s? The shrimp and grits was probably one of the hottest dishes to be served to me temperature wise so I took a good 15 min until I dove in. This dish was exactly what shrimp and grits are supposed to be, simple, hot and tasty. We finished up, we bid Stevie a fond farewell and we parted ways, back out on the town we went.
The next meal I will explain was insane. The Progress is located on Fillmore in the Fillmore district and is the sister restaurant to State Bird Provisions. The Progress is a beautiful family style/banquet restaurant, meaning big plates come out and you share. I was accompanied by my brother, his girl Shirley, the Veen Peen and about 6 of my favorite San Francisco residents. This meal was one for the books and I will do my best to explain each dish. So first up were the pig fries, chile aioli and pecorino. These were huge house made chicharrones covered in aioli and cheese, perfect starter. First actual plate to come out was Tempura of Eggplant served with black sesame babaganoush, queso fresco, persimmon and mustard greens, awesome first dish. The eggplant was fried crisp and you could spoon a little bit of the cheese on to it and lay a persimmon over it to finish it off, excellent mix of flavors. Next were the Spiced Beef and Marrow Dumplings. So these were like loose agnolotti shaped dumplings filled with beef laid over a bed of maitake and greens. This was the dish that woke up my palate. This was the dish where I was like, “Ok, I see what the fuck is going on here.” Exemplary! I think I was scolded by my brother for returning to the plate for seconds before anyone else got any. Next were the Grilled Escarole and Spanish Octopus. Things were just getting better and better. This was awesome and the octopus was cooked perfectly. I’m always talking about octopus and how easy it is to mess up or make tough. This octopus was tender and moved in your teeth like chicken, just as it should. Paired with huge butter beans and harissa, this plate was a memorable one, not to mention beautiful. Out next was the Grilled Llano Seco Pork Loin. Rancho Llano Seco is a family run farm in Chico California that raises pigs, cattle and various vegetables. They have been family owned and operated for 150 years and from the looks of it, they turn out some pretty awesomely raised pigs. This pork was SUCK-SUCK-SUCCULENT. Next was the Garlic Fried Rice, just a simple mid-course appetizer before another protein came out. For fried rice, this was about as Cadillac as they come. Tossed with three styles of matsutake mushrooms, pickled, raw and wilted. Next up was my favorite dish of the night, the BN Ranch Beef. For those that don’t know, BN stands for Bill Niman. If you have eaten good American beef then you have definitely eaten Niman Ranch beef. Imagine a plate of perfectly cooked steak cut into strips and served with maitakes, yuba and Mendocino nori-fermented pickle butter. I could have downed this whole plate. This was actually the best looking plate to come out, aside from best tasting. So that was it for dinner, now it was on to dessert. First dessert to come out was the Brown Butter Walnut Cake. Served with pumpkin mousse, mapled prunes and black sesame. This was an awesome looking dish and tasting as well. The mapled prunes were probably my favorite part of this dish. Next were the Warm Apple Crepes. Served in buttery calvados broth with huckleberries and pine nuts, this was probably my favorite dessert. Third was the Ice Cream Duo. Rosemary-Toffee and Buttermilk were the ice cream flavors and on the side was Buddha’s hand and candied ginger. Last for the desserts was the Floating Island. This dish was comprised of cocoa-espresso sorbet, Sicilian pistachio and orange anglaise. So the term stuffed would be an understatement. We paid the check, called our respective Ubers and parted ways, it was time for bed.
Flour + Water
My final meal was the best and something I had been looking forward to since the last time I was in SF. It was also the only meal that I was not accompanied by Venus Rose. I was however accompanied by Auntie Lauren, a long time friend of the Grippo family since my brother transplanted himself to the city years ago. My favorite meal this trip was consumed inside the walls of Flour and Water. I want to go on record by saying that the charcuterie I got from Flour and Water was THE BEST charcuterie I have ever eaten in all of my long and hard 39 years. Sometimes you get a charcuterie with maybe one meat or another item that you don’t particularly care for, or it comes with a certain mostarda that you think is gross. This Charcuterie was fully functional and is probably something very close to what I would serve in my own restaurant. Salumi board are charcuterie, call them what you want, this was the best. Coppa di testa, pork terrine, coppa and finocchiona served along side Tuscan butter, pear mostarda, quince paste and ciabatta. This butter was like lard almost, with visible specks of spice in it, I could have downed a tub of it. Every bite was perfect, lil butter on the bread with a smear of quince paste and a meat of my choosing, total heaven. The first pasta dish we got was the sweet potato gnocchi with braised porcini mushrooms, charred escarole and breadcrumbs. This was an excellent first dish. I have an affinity towards solid pasta like gnocchi, cavatelli and orecchiette so this was right up my alley. Next was black garlic chitarra with smoked mussels, lardo and fermented Buddha’s hand. I know, you’re thinking, “what the hell is Buddha’s hand?” So here… Buddha’s hand, otherwise known as Citrus medica sarcodactylis, or the fingered citron, is an unusually shaped citron variety whose fruit is segmented into finger-like sections, resembling a human hand. The different cultivars and variations of this citron variety form a gradient from "open-hand" types with outward-splayed segments to "closed-hand" types, in which the fingers are kept together. There are also half-fingered fruits, in which the basal side is united and the apical side fingered. The origin of this kind of citron is commonly traced back to the Far East, probably northeastern India or China, where most domesticated citrus fruits originate. Thank god for wikipedia lol. This was the first “string” type of pasta that we got. This was also the first pasta we got with any type of seafood in it and it was fucking awesome. Next up was our first filled type of pasta. Matsutake mushroom cappelletti en brodo with hen cracklins and schmaltz. This was so insanely good. Brodo is simply broth and schmaltz is rendered chicken or goose fat used for frying or as a spread on bread in Central European cuisine, and in the United States, particularly identified with Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. This was more than likely chicken due to it being served alongside chicken cracklins. Next up was my favorite dish of the night, pork cannelloni, nettles, baby parsnip and johnagold apple. The texture and taste of this dish was out of this world. The outside of the cannelloni was crisp and it melted into all the other flavors. The apple was the kicker, this was awesome but you only got two, I could have eaten many. The last dinner dish of the evening was my second favorite. Goat and fennel tortelli with radicchio, pomegranate and almond. I loved this because the tortelli was comparable to an agnolotti but a tad smaller. The goat that was in the center was cooked to perfection and the crunch of the almond made this a most interesting chew! I was beginning to be stuffed but you know I was not leaving without at least TWO desserts.
The first dessert was pomegranate-yuzu sherbet with hazelnut shortbread crumbled on top. This was the perfect palate cleanser. I totally had to go and screw up the cleansed palate with a chocolate budino with espresso cream and sea salt. One fruity, one rich and chocolaty. I was beyond satisfied with this meal and I cannot wait to return. I ordered an espresso, paid the bill and started to make my way back to my brother’s apartment.
Dear San Francisco, you were delicious and I will be returning in the spring for another round and some more good uncle-niece time, until next time =).