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Best of the Bay 2013: Eating and Drinking

The year's finest new burgers, bar snacks, ice creams, and more.

Cheeseburger at Prospect. (Chris Rochelle)
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Teapot from Umami Mart (Courtesy of Umami Mart)
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The Thomas (Chris Rochelle)
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Destination Burger
A $14 sandwich that you can smell as it rounds the kitchen corner, Prospect’s Red Hawk cheese-topped brisket-and-chuck patty grabs you with the scent of oozy fromage before the server even sets it down. All that richness is headlocked into submission by some aged Italian balsamico and a brioche bun. This is a burger best eaten alone—or at least with good friends who won’t cringe when meat juice is running wild down your chin. 300 Spear St. (at Folsom St.), 415-247-7770 Carolyn Alburger

Japanophilia
From our ramen to our socks, San Franciscans believe in the superiority of all things Japanese, and nothing fuels that fetish better than Umami Mart, an Oakland barware and kitchen supply shop that feels more like an art gallery than a Williams- Sonoma. Founded last fall by food bloggers Kayoko Akabori and Yoko Kumano, it’s discerningly stocked with imported cooking tools and beautiful, functional novelties: gold-plated cocktail shakers, aluminum sake warmers, miso strainers, and more. Adding to the intrigue, the owners just added a shop within the shop, U-Mart, selling candies, processed snacks, drinks, cooking ingredients, and other treats that have been nearly impossible to find this side of the Pacific—until now. 815 Broadway (near 9th St.), Oakland, 510-575-9152 Lauren Murrow

Freezer-Case Addiction
If vegan, nut-based, dairy-free “ice cream” doesn’t sound tasty, let’s just start by saying that a pint of Genuto tropical mango flavor contains an entire mango and—unlike cheaper freezer-case ice creams—not one puff of air. This means improbably dense, gelato-like texture and—because all of the fat comes from nuts—no guilt. Genuto has a big following among the Bay Area’s lactose-free and vegan populations, but its deliciousness deserves a wider audience. We favor the mango, the pistachio, and the brand-new dark chocolate. No need for a sundae situation: Genuto is best with nothing more than a bowl and a spoon. local grocery Stores; genuto.com C.A.

No-Frills Szechuan
For giving us all the tongue-igniting appeal of Mission Chinese Food without the exasperating waits, Chili House is an off-the-radar Szechuan sensation. Dishes from chef Li Jun Han— who also works at Szechuan standby Z & Y— provoke flavor receptors you never knew you had. Twice-cooked pork mingles with pungent fermented black beans and smoky dried tofu. Hunks of cold fish fillet are tossed with the expected numbing peppercorns, but there’s an underpinning tartness and a scatter of refreshing cucumber. To pacify the palate, silky Shanghai-style chicken has the faintest tinge of wine. Chili House goes beyond sweat- inducing, scene-ster flavors, but its time-warp decor—blown-up Chinese symbols, faux flowers—is presented without irony, ensuring that it will never be so hip that you can’t get a seat. 726 Clement St. (near 8th ave.), 415-387-2658 C.A.

Cooking Enlightenment
In a city whose best chefs have the eminence of Greek gods, the new San Francisco Cooking School is making it possible for us mere mortals to learn at the feet of our deities. We’re talking four-hour, hands-on classes that often wrap up with dinner (and wine). In August, Bar Tartine’s Cortney Burns will school students in preserves, and Delfina’s Brian Gremillion will teach the class how to cook eight Delfina recipes, including the restaurant’s famous pappardelle with pork sugo. For around $160 a pop, the mysteries of the gods are all yours. 690 Van Ness Ave. (at Turk St.), 415-346-2665 Sara Deseran

Bar Snack
Onetime 15 Romolo chef Larry Piaskowy knows his way around a cocktail-appropriate snack, which is precisely why his Bar Jars have been multiplying at hot watering holes all over town. In recent months, Blackbird, Reed & Greenough, and Rye have all adopted his diminutive Mason jars filled with various spreads. The smooth pimiento cheese is spicy enough to bring out a Southerner’s drawl. Our favorite, the fava bean hummus, is whipped to the consistency of light cream cheese and has a whisper of heat. Hot tip: Bar Jars have just been released for retail sale at InnerFog. Bring a best-kept bar secret to your next cocktail party. At InnerFog, 545 Irving St. (at 7th ave.), 415-682- 4116; last Saturday of the month at Bluxome Street Winery’s Meet Market, 53 Bluxome St. (near 4th St.), 415-543-5353 C.A.

Neighborhood Taste-Around
If you still haven’t gotten your head— or your mouth—around Temescal’s multiethnic smorgasbord, quit stalling. See it all in one three-hour tour by way of Edible Excursions’ new Temescal Tastes. Every Sunday at 11 a.m. sharp, a small group of wide- eyed and hungry attendees makes its way through eight stops that have prepared a variety of bites, from Korean banchan to kouign-amann. Past tours have hit Tara’s Organic Ice Cream, Juhu Beach Club, Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop, and Starter Bakery, among many others. Wear your stretchy pants. $75 per person; edibleexcursions.net C.A.

Michelin-Star Food for a Twenty Spot
With its three Michelin stars and a shiny new James Beard award for its chef, Christopher Kostow, the Restaurant at Meadowood will run you $225 for nine courses. But now there’s a way in for cash- strapped epicureans: The restaurant’s new set-price bar snack option can be had for just $20, and you’ll consume it all in the new rotunda, complete with flickering fireplace. The six-plus “snacks” may or may not include delicate radish macaroons, shrimp toast, geoduck clam fritters, and tiny lettuces with vinaigrette snow, all presented on open books, fluffy pillows, or artisan-made plates. Now that you’ve stirred up your appetite, an affordable dinner in St. Helena is just a 10-minute drive away. 900 Meadowood ln., St. Helena, 707-967-1205 C.A.

Budget Burger
At Don Pisto’s new North Beach offshoot, Pisto’s, the least expensive main course on the menu is arguably the best: the $6 hamburguesa. Made with five ounces of beef that’s ground with cooked bacon and caramelized onions, the patty is smeared with a generous slather of just-smashed guacamole. Its simple looks belie big flavors: salty beef, clean guac, and a sweet bun. It’s also one of the few items at Pisto’s available to go. 1310 Grant Ave. (near Vallejo St.) C.A.

Rejuvenated Tater Tot
Ore-Ida created them. Rickybobby perfected them. In other words, the tater tot is back at this new Lower Haight come-as-you-are hangout, where cool food and comfort food effortlessly intersect. Created by chef-owners James Moisey and Shane LaValley, sweet potatertots are a songlike medley of sweet and salty, crispy and soft. The tots get an added crunch from rice flour and cornstarch in the bread- ing, and the creamy center comes from deep frying that locks in moisture. Dip them in ranch dressing or ketchup. The sandwich on the side is optional. 400 Haight St. (at Webster St.) C.A.

Enlightened Chocolate Chip Cookie
If the words “organic” and “whole-grain” don’t excite your sweet tooth, hear us out. With this righteous chocolate chip cookie, Barkada, the Temescal-based bakery and café that opened in May, has figured out how to make good-for-you downright decadent. Is it the fact that the Community Grains hard white and soft white flours are toasted first? Or that the butter is not only organic, but also browned before it’s folded into the batter? Or maybe it’s the oozing chunks of Valrhona? We dare you to put it in the ring with a plain old white-flour specimen—it’s a knockout. 4316 Telegraph Ave. (near 43rd St.), Oakland, 510-239-7314 S.D.

Rooftop Sweet Spot
Sitting in the sun on a rooftop overlooking the Napa River is sweet enough, but what if there were good food to go with your view? There is, now that the Thomas has taken over the retired Fagiani’s space. Its vintage style complements chef Brad Farmerie’s upscale homey fare: Green Goddess salad with asparagus, oyster po’ boys—and the best idea yet, “all-day breakfast,” including tea-smoked salmon with spinach and poached eggs. If a dusky warm night has more appeal, dinner is served up here, too. 813 Main St. (near 3rd St.), Napa, 707-226-7821 C.A.

 

Read more Best of the Bay
Best of the Bay 2013: Bayview Fix-ups
Best of the Bay 2013: Brunch Without Borders
Best of the Bay 2013: Game-Changer Bars
Best of the Bay 2013: New Subspecies
Best of the Bay 2013: Upgraded Napa Agenda
Best of the Bay 2013: Culture
Best of the Bay 2013: Food
Best of the Bay 2013: Recreation 
Best of the Bay 2013: Socializing
Best of the Bay 2013: Style
 

Originally published in the July 2013 issue of San Francisco.

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