San Francisco Top 5 Eats

I lived in San Francisco for about five years, and Boyfriend grew up there and spent most of his life there.

When we talk about going back to visit, we ask each other, “Where will you definitely eat the next time you’re in town?”

I’ve been back to San Francisco twice since I left, so I’ve got mine down pat:

San Francisco Top 5 Eats

Arizmendi co-op bakery, Inner Sunset

Rosamunde sausage shop and Toronado Pub, on Haight Street (counts as one entry because the custom is to bring the sausages next door into the bar and eat there)

Little Star Pizza, Western Addition

Boulangerie Bakery, Cole Valley location (have a tartine and a big bowl of coffee)

India Clay Oven, Outer Richmond (terrible service, but the best saag paneer; prawns jal frazie is also highly recommended.

Radegast Hall & Biergarten

Last night, we went to Radegast Hall & Biergarten, a German beer garden that openly somewhat recently in Brooklyn, NY. This was our second visit, but first time eating there.

Radegast can’t claim the long heritage of the better known and more popular Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, which is to the best of my knowledge the last remaining beer garden in New York’s five boroughs from the early 1900s. However, Radegast has an impressive German and Belgian beer list as well as the best sauerkraut I’ve ever eaten.

The sauerkraut probably isn’t a traditional Bavarian recipe, but as far as I can tell, it is unique to Radegast and probably the creation of someone on staff. It’s sweet, with hints of apple juice, a mild smoky pork undertone, and a little kick of hot pepper.

The beer list is equally unique to Radegast. German beers, particularly Weisses, dominate the taps, though there are a few Czech brews and one or two others from Austria and Belgium. The bottled list is divided into German and Belgian beers, with plenty of options I’ve never tried before (which could very well turn me into a regular customer; I love exploring a good beer list over time).

The hall itself is huge. The “garden” is actually covered, but the roof is retractable. Radegast serves a table-service brunch and dinner, but also offers a late night grill until 2 a.m. The grill isn’t a meal deal by any means, but you can eat a small dinner for less than $10. I had a bratwurst (pork) with two pieces of grilled bread and a mound of that astounding sauerkraut for 8 or 9 bucks. Boyfriend got the kielbasa [they were out of weisswurst (veal)] and opted for fries instead of bread. There’s a mustard bar to the side of the grill, and if I thought the kraut was something to write home about, the Radegast mustard deserves its own postcard. It’s mild to medium intensity, slightly sweet, and goes so well with the kraut.

One thing to watch out for at the beer hall is that the prices aren’t on the beer menu, but they are on the web site. All the draught beers in American pints (16 oz.) go for $7. You can drown yourself in a full liter of beer for $13. And pitchers are offered for $18. The bottled beers vary, but nothing costs more than $10.

Radegast Hall & Biergarten

113 North 3rd Street
(Williamsburg) Brooklyn, NY

The Price of One Week

A little more than I year ago, I went to COPIA in northern California, which is a center for wine, food, and art related to wine and food. There was a photography exhibit there by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio based on their book, Hungry Planet.

Hungry Planet is a series of photographs of families from all around and all the food they’ve consumed in one week. (I’d love a copy as a gift -- Update 9/29/08 Thanks, Boyfriend!) Menzel and D’Alusio have a second book called What the World Eats: Hungry Planet, which from what I can tell, is basically part two of the same concept.

The exhibit must have had at least two dozen huge photos, and next to each one was an itemized grocery list and total grocery bill given in both the local currency and the U.S. dollar equivalent at the time.

There are major differences, of course, between the diets of people from different countries.

But what caught my attention even more than the culinary cultural differences was the amount of packaging. If you pay attention to the product packaging, the differences are astounding between rich and poor countries. Surprisingly, the amount of packaging doesn’t tell us which families will be obese and which won’t. See, for example, a Japanese family’s eats for the week compared to the stark image of a family from Chad.

Time magazine online has a selection of images from the book.

And here a sampling of the stats:

Weekly Grocery Spending

Chad, family of six: 685 CFA francs or $1.23 US at time of photograph

Japan, family of four: 37,699 yen or $317.25 US at time of photograph

Great Britain, family of four: 155.54 GBP or $253.15 US at time of photograph

Germany, family of four: 375.39 Euros or $500.07 US at time of photograph

U.S., California, family of four: $159.18

U.S., North Carolina, family of four: $341.98

Egypt, family of twelve: 387.85 Egyptian or $68.53 US at time of photograph

Mexico, family of five: 1,862.78 Mexican pesos or $189.09 US at time of photograph

Kuwait, family of eight: 63.63 dinar or $221.45 US at time of photograph

Secret Food Guilt

We (especially women) all have deep dark food secrets. Who hasn’t leapt backward violently from an open refrigerator at the sound of another person entering the kitchen? It’s not just a guilty conscience at work -- it’s a guilty food conscience. The funny thing is, the violations we think are humiliating rarely are as wrong or disturbing as we make them out to be in our heads.

Still, guilty food conscience moments are more painful than any other I know. At least that’s how I feel.

I once aired some of my guilty pleasures to an online community of casual restaurant reviewers. I told them I ate jam straight up, and they chastised me for the banality of it. A Burger King French fry binger accused me of holding back and not truly divulging my true secrets. A Chef Boyardee fiend said surely I was making a mockery of everyone else’s admissions. “No,” I pleaded, “you don’t understand! I will eat the entire jar of jam in, like three or four sittings! That’s disgusting! Isn’t it?”

Isn’t it?

I eventually placated them by saying that once in a very blue moon, I will eat one of those prepackaged fruit pies, the kind that are shaped like a large empanada, are covered in hardened icing, and contain almost an entire day’s worth of fat. I’ve probably eaten maybe five of them in my life, but it was the only bone I could think to throw. The jam confession really was and is my worst one.

Well, it’s not just jam, I suppose. I eat all kinds of foodstuffs straight from the jar, with a keen affinity for anything that has similar qualities to jam: soft, spreadable, and sweet. Honey, lemon curd, peanut butter, frosting, Nutella, pie filling, raw cookie dough, and so on. You’ll notice that condiments take the spotlight here. Though I do like real food that's in the same vein (custards, bread pudding, undercooked banana bread, soft ice cream), it pales in comparison to the kinds of things you’re only supposed to eat a little bit of.

Guilt at Eight Years Old

One of my earliest guilty food memories is of being at a birthday party at a roller rink. I must have only been in first grade because the memory is very hazy. I only remember the embarrassing flash. All the kids had stopped roller-skating and had gathered around a long brown and orange laminated table to sing “Happy Birthday,” eat cupcakes, and watch the birthday kid open presents.

We all got these delicious cupcakes, though I’m sure they were nothing special, just Betty Crocker mix and tub frosting. We all got a full-sized paper plate, and I remember thinking that my delicious cupcake looked so small and insignificant on that huge mass of white. I remember devouring my cupcake, and then I remember watching the kid open gifts. Then I remember going back to my cupcake to gnaw the last licks of frosting and bits of cake from the muffin paper. Then I remember looking up and realizing that I had moved down the table from my original seat to watch gift giving. My face flashed to red. I was licking, sucking, nibbling someone else’s cupcake wrapper!

I was totally mortified, though I’m sure looking back on it that no one else noticed. But the embarrassment escalated to new heights when I realized that I must have already licked, sucked, and nibbled my own cupcake paper.

Imagine what the kid’s mom must have thought upon cleaning up: Which of these freaky, piggy little kids went around eating all the cupcake wrappers?

It hasn’t gotten any easier as an adult.

A few years ago, when I was still living with roommates, one of them came home to find a little splotch, about the size of a nickel, of yellowish orange liquid in the middle of the kitchen floor. “What is that?” she asked. “Did my dog leave a piddle spot on the floor? That’s so unlike him! I hope he’s not sick.”

She bent down with a paper towel to wipe it up. And it was sticky. It was very sticky. It was very sticky because it wasn’t dog urine. It was honey. I had been pouring the honey onto a teaspoon and sucking it off, over and over again. I must have dripped.

The real problem with this scenario -- and what made it oh so much more embarrassing to me -- is that I didn’t own a jar of honey in the house. But my roommate did.

I can only imagine what she was thinking: Not only did Jill eat my honey, but what the hell was she doing with it that it would have dripped onto the middle of the kitchen floor?

It’s baffling. And I don’t know why I would do such a thing. I just did. And I continue to.

Let me get off my chest all the times I ate my roommates’ foods. In college, my roommate got a jar of wild blueberry preserves from his aunt or his mother or someone as a souvenir from somewhere she had visited. He said, “Mmm! Yum! You’ll have to try some of this, too!” meaning "try some of this when I open it."

I don’t know what happened, but I opened the jar before he did, and within a few days, maybe a week, it was all gone. I started by just putting just a teaspoon or two on a piece of toast; but then I tasted it, and it was just too good not to dunk the spoon back in a few times and chow down. Before I knew it, the whole jar was basically gone. I think I left a smear purple blue stickiness around the edge of the glass for effect. The day he went to finally open that special jar of blueberry jam, he was astounded, and rightly so.

Another roommate I had was sent a homemade jar of lemon curd. Yeah, that disappeared.

These stories truly are the ones that leave me cringing. I had such heavy guilt about the blueberry preserves one that I started giving him jams as gifts myself, as if to see, “See? Isn’t this so funny in hindsight? Ha ha ha.”

Jams, jellies, and preserves are the worst for me. I know it’s wrong. I know it’s wrong every single time I do it. But the habit just can’t be broken.

I’ve been living with the same Boyfriend for about five years now. He found out about my bad habit the hard way when one day he, innocently enough, went to get the jam out of the fridge to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We had gone grocery shopping together earlier that week and had just bought brand new jars of both peanut butter and jelly.

“Where’d you put the jelly?” he called out with his head in the refrigerator. Then he started opening cabinets.

“It’s gone,” I said.

“What do you mean it’s gone?”

“I mean it’s gone!” I cried, half in anger and half in horrible horrible fear of my own actions.

“Jill,” he said, “it can’t be ‘gone.’ We just bought a brand new jar. You must have put it away in the cupboard or something since it hasn’t been opened yet.”

“No,” I said. “No, no, no, it’s gone.” I paused. And then I shrieked, “I ate it all!”

“How did you eat it all?” He really couldn’t comprehend this.

“I ate it all. I am a crazed maniac woman for jam! I eat it out of the jar. Haven’t you ever noticed that some days there is a stack of dirty spoons in the sink? That some days, the entire cutlery sorter is completely empty of spoons? That’s me! That’s me getting a fresh spoon every time I dip into the jar of jam because I don’t want to contaminate it with my saliva!” In reality, I didn’t gush out all those dirty horrible details on the spot, but they’ve been revealed over time.

It’s so sad.

There’s more, too, like the time I was at work in a quiet office where there were often only three people in my end of the building, and I had eaten my lunch, but I was still hungry, so I went to eat my snack, but I was too embarrassed to bring it back to my desk, so I stayed in the break room and began eating it straight out of its container and right over the sink when my boss’ boss walked in.

“Hi,” I mumbled, food crumbling out of my stuffed mouth.

When I was first dating Boyfriend (he swears he has no memory of this) I invited him over to dinner and I was excited to see him and didn’t want to seem like a pig and therefore tried to not eat too much at dinner, but I hadn’t eaten enough earlier in the day, either, so at 1 in the morning, I woke up with a growling tummy and toddled into the kitchen. I opened the fridge and began eating the dinner leftovers directly from the fridge. My guilty conscience got the best of me, so of course I jumped back and tried to distance myself from the open Tupperware when my new boyfriend was standing in the doorway saying, “Midnight snack?”

Austin Recommendations: Anyone? Anyone?

I’ll be in Austin, Texas, soon on a business trip, with four days to eat wherever I want. I’ve been there twice before and have good memories of a Thai restaurant that my friend took me to, which was in a building that looked like it was a converted free-standing house. I don’t recall the name.

I also remember eating once (maybe in 2005) at The Roaring Fork, which was right downtown. Although I don’t remember exactly what I ate, I do remember it was the first time I encountered the Smoking Loon label of wine, which has been on my short list of easy-to-find bargain bottles ever since. I also remember my co-worker ordered a fondue plate, which came with bite-sized pieces of bread, vegetables, and steak (!) to dip in a vat of cheese sauce. She ate approximately three bites of it, not because it was bad, but because it was “very rich” (and she is way skinny and I would assume she works to keep it that way).

Two friends of mine who used to live there keep telling me to go to Freebirds for a burrito, and this year there is a branch that seems like it is close enough to the hotel where I’m staying, near the convention center, for me to actually give it a whirl.

People who have never traveled for business before don’t seem to understand that it’s really difficult to squeeze in time while on a trip to see anything in the city or eat where you really want to eat. I work very hard at doing both, though sometimes missing out can’t be helped. On more than one occasion, after returning from a business trip, I’ve gone to fill out an expense report only to notice that I didn’t have a single receipt for meals except for two sandwiches from the airports and four cups of Starbucks coffee. The rest of what I ate for three or four days straight was cocktail hour food at parties, complimentary convention center box lunches, and bagels and cookies from the press room.

And I think in all my business trips, I’ve ordered room service maybe three times, usually because I arrived at the hotel very late at night, starving, and there was nothing else nearby. This very thing happened when I went to Boston in 2006, and I got a shredded pork quesadilla with mango salsa that blew my mind. Room service food can actually be quite good, though you usually end up waiting 90 minutes to get it.

The purpose of this blog post is to make a desperate call for suggestions of where I can eat in Austin. I’m specifically looking for places that are within walking distance of the downtown convention center area, independent coffee shops, really good take-out places (take-out is the best alternative to pricey room services when traveling alone), and cafĂ©-style eateries. If you have any advice, let me know soon. I’m out of here on September 14.