When I’m out shopping during the holidays, I always enjoy the excuse of getting a bite to build back my strength for more shopping. There are certain things I crave, and I often plan my shopping trips around satisfying those cravings. Here are some of the foods I crave and where to find them
Ella’s, 500 Presidio Avenue (at California), 415-441-5669, www.ellassanfrancisco.com
Esperpento, 3295 22nd Street (at Valencia), 415-282-8867, www.esperpentorestaurant.com
My mom used to make wonderful chicken croquettes – they’re big in New England. They’re also popular in Spain (though ham croquettes are more common there). Fortunately I still have my mom’s recipe (see page 14), and I often make them after Thanksgiving or Christmas with leftover turkey. On the West Coast, it’s rare to find chicken croquettes, and I’ve only found them two places in San Francisco: Ella’s in Laurel Village and Esperpento in the Mission. Ella’s only has them occasionally as a special, but Esperpento, bless their hearts, has them every day. Croquettes are made with chopped chicken, fresh parsley and béchamel sauce. The mixture is chilled, rolled into logs, dredged in egg and breadcrumbs, and fried. My mom’s New England version includes extra béchamel sauce to pour over the croquettes, which they don’t offer at Esperpento, but they’re still the best I’ve had outside of my mom’s.
CRAB ANGEL HAIR LASAGNA
Crab House, Pier 39 (at The Embarcadero), 415-434-2722, www.crabhouse39.com
Speaking of béchamel, you’ll also find it in the decadent crab angel hair lasagna at the Crab House. This is a dish I’ve craved ever since I first tried it nearly a decade ago. It’s unique to the Crab House, and while it sounds strange – a square of baked angel hair, Dungeness crab, and rich béchamel sauce topped with brown, bubbly Parmesan cheese and more béchamel sauce – it is truly addictive.
FRIED WHOLE-BELLY IPSWICH CLAMS
Woodhouse Fish Company, 1914 Fillmore Street (at Bush) & 2073 Market Street (at Church); 415-437-2722, www.woodhousefish.com
I used to go clamming with my grandfather every summer in Rhode Island as a kid, and there’s nothing better than seeing that geyser of saltwater shoot from the sand, signaling a bed of clams lies beneath. Plump, whole-belly Ipswich clams are hard to come by outside of New England, but Woodhouse Fish Company flies them in from Maine, dips them in a light batter, and fries them golden brown. They are not a bit chewy (a sign they are not overcooked), and have the requisite sweet-and-briny juiciness and mineral overtones that I remember fondly from those Little Rhody summers.
Big 4 (in the Huntington Hotel), 1075 California Street (at Taylor), 415-771-1140, www.big4restaurant.com
Since the comfort food craze, it’s easier to find chicken potpies at a variety of restaurants, but for me the best is still on the bar menu at the Big 4. While executive chef Gloria Ciccarone-Nehls creates a lot of amazing dishes (including those on her famous wild game menu), I consider the potpie her signature. The elegant, rich, sherry cream is full of succulent chicken and just-crisp vegetables and topped with a flaky, golden, piping hot puff pastry crust (you can add a shot of Spanish sherry for an additional three bucks). Combine that with the cozy charm of the lounge, replete with roaring fireplace and live piano music from the fabulous Michael Parsons (Monday through Saturday, starting at 5 p.m.), and you have a true Old San Francisco experience.
FISH AND CHIPS
Liverpool Lil’s, 2942 Lyon Street (at Presidio Lombard Gate), 415-921-6664, www.liverpoollils.com
My favorite fish and chips in San Francisco have always been at Piccadilly, a little hole-in-the-wall on Polk Street, but my last trip there was disappointing. So I crowned a new favorite on a recent visit to Liverpool Lil’s. A golden beer-batter crust envelops moist, wild-caught West Coast cod (which is sustainable, unlike Atlantic cod). The fish is firm but flaky and white as the driven snow. When you bite into the light crust, it cracks like a thin piece of glass. My only complaint is the skinny fries – I like thick-cut steak fries with my fish and chips that can hold up to all the malt vinegar.
CALAMARI STEAK DORÉ
Fishermen’s Grotto, 9 Fisherman’s Wharf (at Taylor), 415-673-7025, www.fishermensgrotto.com
Forget fried calamari – I only like my calamari two ways: steak doré style and grilled. For doré style I head to Fishermen’s Grotto, my father’s favorite restaurant since his Navy days. Egg battered and panfried to a deep golden brown, the calamari steak is tender with a delicate flavor, and the lemon butter sauce adds a bit of tanginess for the perfect finish. This was one of my favorite childhood dishes, and it still ranks at the top of my list today.
GRILLED MONTEREY CALAMARI
E’Angelo, 2234 Chestnut Street (at Avila), 415-567-6164, www.eangelo.com
The calamari from the Monterey Bay is some of the best in the world, so I appreciate when a chef knows how to treat it with respect by simply grilling it and allowing it to shine. Chef Claudio Marchesan at E’Angelo makes far and away my favorite version. So often chefs overcook calamari until it becomes rubbery, but Marchesan gets it just right: The squid remains velvety soft with the slightest crunch. The char from the grill adds a wonderful smokiness, and the cannellini beans, tomatoes and arugula provide a perfect bright, creamy, peppery accompaniment.
The Brick Yard, 1787 Union Street (at Octavia), 415-400-4712, www.brickyardsf.com
I love traditional barbecued ribs, but I frequently find myself craving Asian style. My favorites are the sweet and savory ribs with jalapenos and cilantro oil at The Brick Yard. Sous chef Irene Yim lent chef Aaron Little an old family recipe: the ribs are first grilled, then oven roasted, then deep-fried. Add the sticky sweet and savory sauce and a little heat from the jalapenos, and you have some mighty addictive ribs.
Brioche Bakery & Cafe, 210 Columbus Avenue (at Kearny), 415-765-0412, www.briochecafe.com
I love brioche in every form, and the fact there is a cafe in North Beach named for the buttery, eggy French bread that showcases it in myriad ways is a special treat. Along with selling fresh-baked loaves of their namesake, Brioche Bakery & Cafe offers a sugar brioche, which rates as one of my top 10 sweet treats in San Francisco. This little wedge of heaven (it looks like a slice of brioche pizza) is light and flaky and sprinkled liberally with sugar crystals. Just as you get to the last bite, you find an even sweeter surprise – a pool of cream that just leaves you wanting more.
CHICKEN AND WAFFLES
Criolla Kitchen, 2295 Market Street (at Sanchez), 415-552-5811
There is something truly wonderful about salty, crunchy fried chicken atop fluffy waffles all slathered in maple syrup. The best I’ve found in the City is across town near the Castro at Criolla Kitchen. So often with chicken and waffles, the waffles are an afterthought, usually tough and dry, but the butter-batter waffles at Criolla are a revelation – crisp outside, light and airy inside. The fried chicken has a thin crust with an ethereal crunch, and it remains on the chicken for each and every bite. The coating is deep amber in color and packs a bit of cayenne for heat – but not too much – and the meat within is moist and juicy. Slather the cane sugar whipped butter on the waffles, pour the warm maple syrup on top, and you have a delightful breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Susan Dyer Reynolds can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org