Growing by the Bay

Category: restaurants

Lettuce beds at French Laundry Garden

The French Laundry Garden

The French Laundry Garden, Yountville

The French Laundry Garden, Yountville.

French Laundry reservations are notoriously hard to get, and if you do get in you will pay a bundle for your good meal. But if you enjoy gardens you can still visit the restaurant’s dedicated vegetable and herb garden, which is free and open to all. It’s located right across the street from the restaurant in Yountville.

It’s a pretty no-nonsense working garden. The layout is posted on a signpost across from the restaurant on Washington Street.

You might see workers shelling beans, harvesting crops, or working in the garden.

Working the French Laundry Garden.

Working the French Laundry Garden.

Chickens are kept in a tidy pen, where they are provided with a nice secure house and a patio umbrella.

French Laundry Garden chicken pen.

French Laundry Garden chicken pen.

Bees are kept as well in a couple of locations.

French Laundry Garden beehive.

French Laundry Garden beehive.

Many crops are grown in a large but simply constructed greenhouse.

French Laundry Garden greenhouse.

French Laundry Garden greenhouse.

Among the plants grown in the greenhouse are a large number of tomatoes (many more are grown outdoors). I was interested by the French Laundry Garden technique of growing their greenhouse tomatoes, which maximizes vertical space while minimizing horizontal sprawl. (Notice the string and plastic clips at lower right in this photo.) I will discuss this in a subsequent post.

Greenhouse tomatoes.

Greenhouse tomatoes.

Spaces between the gardens are covered with grass (which I found a little odd, but must provide on-going employment for the weeders). The garden is completely flat and easy to navigate even for those with mobility issues. So have a visit. You can sit and take in the scene on one of the benches and tables provided.

Table and benches.

Table and benches.






Luka's, Oakland

Lukas in the afternoon

lukas in oakland

We stopped in a Lukas taproom and lounge in Oakland on a recent weekend afternoon. It’s not a bad time to visit — it wasn’t too crowded. In the afternoon, you order from the bar. If you get the seafood platte (photo via Pieces & Bits) it comes on ice. But really the frites are all you need with a good Belgian beer.


Taqueria El Castillo

Taqueria Castillo

taqueria castillo

Taqueria Castillo is a little hole in the wall place near where I work in Civic Center. As you can see from the sign, this is Taqueria Castillo B — there is another branch on Golden Gate, and maybe more.

The decor isn’t much, I guess — and neither is the location, on McAllister near 7th, for that matter. I would say about 90 percent of the people who eat there or get food for take-out order burritos.

But a good value on the menu is the huevos con chorizo. For around six dollars you get beans of choice, rice, eggs with chorizo, salsa, a salad (with avocado), and jalapenos and other options, along with a basket of steaming hot corn tortillas.

huevos con chorizo


Tavern on the Green

Tavern on the Green NOT coming to San Francisco

tavern on the green

Okay, it will be called Tavern on the Green (I guess). Okay, it will be a branch of the pretentious New York restaurant (more frequented by tourists than locals). But there’s just no way the Metreon is by any stretch of the imagination green. It’s not remotely comparable to Central Park. The New York restaurant might be known for its ostentatious decor, but chandeliers and mirrors alone would not draw the out-of-towners — it’s the location that has made it a destination since the 1930s.

So now the restaurant is bringing its Eisenhower-era menu with its petrodollar prices to fill the top floor of the Metreon, maybe the phoniest, most soulless and artificial retail complex in the city. The Metreon experience is the equivalent of taking all the annoying cell phones and IPods that bother you on BART and packing them into one monstrous box intruding on what was formerly a pleasant part of the city.

I suppose in some cynical sort of profiteering way that’s perfect. But they should call it Tavern for the Greenback.



Belgian beer

Belgian beer by the bay

belgian beer window

For a few years running I printed books in Belgium (today the exchange rate is too unfavorable), and I developed a taste for Belgian beer, as one will. (Above is a shop window photographed in Bruges around Christmas 2006.)

Now Belgian beer establishments are springing up around the bay, a development to be applauded.

  • The Trappist, Oakland, 460 8th Street Oakland
    The Trappist features “15 Rotating Taps and Over 120 Specialty Bottles.” They seem to carry all the real Trappist beers (see the menu on their website). A small place in an 1970s Victorian, remodeled and decorated to resemble a Belgian bar. No food. Yelp reviews here.
  • Luka’s Taproom and Lounge, 2221 Broadway, Oakland
    Luka’s features mussels and oysters. The mussels aren’t quite to Belgian standards, but they are still good. The also feature DJs and dancing, and they have a pool table. The space is a bit cavernous and unfinished. Yelp reviews here.
  • Monk’s Kettle, 3141 16th Street, San Francisco (in the Mission)
    Monk’s Kettle has a large beer selection, and it serves a full range of pub-style food. From the Yelp reviews it sounds crowded, and the beers seem overpriced. I haven’t eaten there, but I guess it offers an alternative to other restaurants in the area.
  • La Trappe, North Beach, 800 Greenwich St. San Francisco
    This place opened recently near Washington Square. Consensus is that the sitting downstairs offers the most authentic Belgian flavor. Offers and excellent selection of beers and traditional Belgian specialties (frites, etc.). I’m really looking forward to checking this one out.

Curiously, neither of the SF places seems to have a website.

French Laundry, Yountville

How to get French Laundry reservations

If you have several hundred dollars that are eating a hole in your pocket — slowly — and you want to make a reservation to eat at the French Laundry in Yountville a couple of months down the road, here’s what you have to do.

french laundry website

  1. Be a party of four. Other sizes have to rely on phone reservation. The odds of getting a table for two within a couple of months by calling the restaurant are probably less than the odds of John Edwards becoming president.
  2. Exactly two months before you want to eat, a little before midnight, fire up the OpenTable French Laundry reservation page
  3. Enter your information and the time 7:15. Every midnight two reservations, one at 5:30 and one at 9:00, open up on OpenTable two months down the road. The 7:15 time puts you in the running for both.
  4. Get your credit card ready to go.
  5. Have some way of knowing exactly what time it is — for example, open up the official U.S. time clock in another browser window.
  6. Finally (quoting from insider, the source of these instructions) “When the clock hits 11:59:56, click the red search button on OpenTable. If you get a page that offers a time, you’ve gotten in. Last night, my husband and I were using separate computers, but followed this method. He got the 5:30pm time, and I got the 9pm.”

The FL consistently scores at the top of Bay Area restaurants.

I hope it’s worth it.

Beach Chalet

beach chalet, san francisco

B in the D, the Beach Chalet at the ocean end of Golden Gate Park housed a sketchy pool hall. But the place has been restored and turned into a decent restaurant with an excellent view. There is also a visitor center devoted to the history of the chalet. The walls are decorated with historic WPA frescoes created by Lucien Labaudt in the 1930s. Click the screenshot to visit the official site.

Dim Sum

Gridskipper recommends the following Dim Sum restaurants in the city. What are they forgetting? Maybe as time goes by it will be possible to add to this list.

Best new restaurants in SF

Esquire magazine’s 2007 list of the best new restaurants in the U.S. includes two from San Francisco: LarkCreekSteak, and Cafe Majestic. I haven’t tried either of these. Does anyone have any experiences to report?

Fire at Original Joe’s

I was at the main branch of the SF Library when this dubious-looking character begins to strike up a conversation. One adopts a veneer of reserve after being accosted by street types a few too many times, but this fellow seemed to have something urgent to report. “Ya know Zrignljos?” he said. “What?” “Zringnljos! The restrunt! Over there!” he pointed vaguely. “Zringnljos! Ya know!” Um, yeah,” I replied. “Well, it just burned down! I was there! It burned down! Big fire!”

It was true. Original Joe’s restaurant was shut down by fire and will be closed for at least a couple of months. The restaurant was a Tenderloin institution, having been in continuous operation for 70 years. This will be its longest shut-down ever.

Chronicle Staff Writers Kevin Fagan and Stacy Finz have the story at SFGate:

“The pipe from the charcoal burner started making a roaring noise, so we called the Fire Department,” said longtime waiter Roger Miranda. “That’s always a bad noise. When the smoke started, we ran out as fast as we could.” The charcoal burner is always lit on Fridays to cook steak and fish, Miranda said.

While Miranda was helping evacuate the 21 workers in the restaurant, waiter Sergio Morales dashed upstairs to the 30-room, low-rent residential Moderne Hotel that occupies the second floor of the two-story Original Joe’s building.

“I ran down the hallways, banging on doors and telling everyone, ‘Get out! Get out!’ and then I got out, too,” Morales said.

One man, however, headed up instead of down – hotel manager Dennis Rindell. He hit the roof, grabbed a fire extinguisher and sprayed its contents down the flue.

It didn’t work. He was pulled off the roof by firefighters using an extension ladder.

“The flames and the smoke kept coming, and I couldn’t stand it any more,” Rindell said as he stood on Taylor Street sucking air off an oxygen mask.

Tu Lan

tu lan

How could Gridskipper post a feature on San Francisco’s best hole-in-the-wall restaurants and not mention Tu Lan? I mean, this place defines the term hole-in-the-wall.To begin with, it’s located in the unlikeliest place, Sixth Street between Market and Mission. But if you can step over the drunks you find yourself in a place that is … well, a little grimy.

Okay, maybe it’s the “best” part they stumbled on. But the food is generally good — hearty, unpretentious Vietnamese fare. I don’t eat there a lot, but I’ve been in a few times over the years, and you’ve got to hand it to this place, it’s consistent. I never got addicted though, like I did the the great Henry’s Hunan.

Incongruously, the menu features a rave from Julia Childs. Sure it’s from decades ago, but I swear this place never changes.

Omid T, over at Yelp, put it like this:

Grimy, grubby, filthy, sullied, icky, grotty, dodgy, sketchy, minging, manky, stanky muck.

Tasty, yummy, scrummy, nummy, gettin’ chummy in my tummy, get in line and order, dummy, like an Asian taco truck.

Goi cuon, Cha gio, Bi cuon, Banh xeo, Hoanh thanh, Pho bo, Mi xao, Bo xao, Xao rau, Bo xa, Tom kho, eat them up yo – none of ’em suck.

The health department, CDC, your church, your priest, and ministry, your HMO or PPO, the doctors and the dentistry wish you best of luck.

Top 10 Affordable Restaurants in San Francisco

According to RealTravel, this is the list:

    1. Park Chow (Inner Sunset)
    2. Taqueria Cancun (The Mission)
    3. Magnolia Pub & Brewery (Upper Haight)
    4. Shangrila Vegetarian Restaurant (Outer Sunset)
    5. Sparky’s 24 Hour Diner (The Castro)
    6. Seniore’s Pizza (Outer Sunset)
    7. PJ’s Oyster Bed (Inner Sunset)
    8. Buca di Beppo (Downtown)
    9. Ali Baba’s Cave (Lower Haight)
    10. All You Knead (Upper Haight)

I haven’t eaten at many of these.

Gridskipper’s Culinary Picks

The Bay Area’s culinary reputation has been taking some hits lately. “Alice Waters and sourdough bread aside,” Alan Richman wrote in GQ, “the Bay Area has contributed surprisingly little to the culinary ripening of America.” Tired lists like the one assembled by Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer probably aren’t helping, so Gridskipper made its own list. It’s a short list but a good one, including Anchor Steam Brewery, Ghirardelli Chocolate, the French Laundry, the London Wine Bar, the McEvoy Ranch, P.G. Molinari and Sons, the Slanted Door, St. George Spirits, and Tsar Nicoulai.

Link Roundup: San Francisco Area Restaurants

Here are some links to Bay Area restaurants that have been showing up lately:

Does anyone use any of these sites? Are there others you would recommend?

Weirdest San Francisco Menu Items

hot frogNo, not another hangtown fry item. Instead, we’re talking about items such as dessert soup made from coconut milk and pureed mung beans; finanziera of cockscombs, duck tongue, and riso; crab salad with cantaloupe, avocado, and mint; and sizzling fresh frog. Descriptions of these and more over at gridskipper.

Image source: Taipei Cultural Center

Deconstructing Casa Sanchez Salsa

casa sanchez salsa

Casa Sanchez, based in San Francisco, makes some of the best chips and salsa around. They have a restaurant at 2778 24th Street (which has been getting some negative reviews). But their main business these days must be their salsa and chips for distribution, which are excellent. They offer both fresh and roasted salsas. Now Chowhound is trying to reverse engineer the fresh salsa. Click the link to see how they’re doing.

According to the packaging, the ingredients are “tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro, garlic, citric acid, and sea salt.” Should be easy, right? I think what makes it tricky is getting the right mix of peppers. La Chica Guapa and I once translated a book called the Mexico the Beautiful Cookbook by Susanna Palazuelos. There is an enormous variety of peppers available for Mexican cooking, and the art of combining them requires experience and discrimination.

Burrito Eater

burrito eater
photo from is an incredibly thorough guide to the city’s taquerias and burrito restaurants. Through today it has reviewed 454 burritos since New Year’s Day 2003.

Top-rated? Taqueria La Castro, 4001 18th St. Runner-up? Papalote, 3409 24th St.:

Papalote’s burritos are rendered with such mechanical consistency, some have wondered if there’s a mustachioed robot assembling them in an unseen corner of their tiny kitchen. The victor of our 2004 postseason tournament and close runner-up in our 2006 Slab Scrum, Papalote has become a quietly infallible kingpin of the Mission’s vaunted taqueria scene — slightly off the beaten path, humbly sized, family operated, and pretty much a sure thing every time. Pancho Villa may have the security guard and the gymnasium-size dining hall, La Taqueria may have the tacky neon sign proclaiming its burritos the greatest things since sliced sesos, and Cancun may have the poor white hipster cred. In our book, Papalote steamhammers them all. Specify a foil wrap, if that’s your game of cards, and check the rotating art exhibits on display. Breakfast available. Credit cards accepted.

UPDATE: Gridskipper has posted a good page on SF burritos, keyed to a map of the city.

Model Bakery, St. Helena

model bakery, st helenaThe Model Bakery, a fixture of St. Helena’s Main Street, continues to serve up pastries, cookies, and breads made fresh daily with organic flours and natural sourdough starters. Sandwiches, hearty soups, and wood-fired pizzas are also available. The unpretentious interior is called “vintage” by Zagat’s — appropriate for a bakery that’s been operating at the same location for 70 years. There are flowers on every table. You can also get a picnic lunch to go and take it across the street and up a block or so to a pleasant town park with a gazebo; that’s somethin my family has done a lot over the years.

Click image for larger view.

1357 MAIN ST., ST. HELENA; U(707) 963-8192. Open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Flying Fish Grill, Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay is a foggy coastal community of about 17,000 people located about 30 miles south of San Francisco at the intersection of highways 1 and 92. (Since I live in the East Bay I usually get there from highway 92 across the San Mateo Bridge, but be aware that 92 is often very slow.)

The main shopping area is on Main Street, which triangulates the two highways toward the south. Just west of where Main Street meets 92 is a rustic little fish place called the Flying Fish Grill.

(Click images for larger views.)

flying fish grill

The restaurant is an adjunct to the fish market that is located next door.

fish market

The Flying Fish has a good range of fish dishes. The fish tacos — though maybe not quite as great as those at El Tio in Puerto Morelos — are the best I know in the Bay Area. A Taco Grande, which is pretty big, costs less than $4. The crabby cheese bread and clam chowder are popular, and the fish sandwiches shouldn’t be overlooked.

The kitchen staff is an agreeable crew (you’ll meet them if you visit the rest room, which is reached by way of the kitchen), and the chef clearly knows what he’s doing.

kitchen staff

Service is a little unpolished, and orders sometimes end up at the wrong table. But it doesn’t matter. Our waiter on our last visit was a likeable fellow, and everyone has a good time, and a good lunch.


There is outside seating if the weather is nice.


Tamarindo Antojeria

tamarindo, oakland

I had a chance to eat at Tamarindo Antojeria the other day. It’s located 468 8th Street in downtown Oakland. (The nicely restored brick-walled restaurant is in the city’s Old Town district.) Their website is, and the phone is 510.444.1944.

Although it was a Wednesday the restaurant was very crowded. We arrived early because we were heading for a 7:30 event, so we got a table right away (the one on the left in the picture above), but people who arrived just after us had to wait.

Tamarindo was voted “Best Mexican Restaurant 2006” by the East Bay Express. But it’s not much like most Mexican restaurants. You won’t find massive burritos here. Instead you get alta cocina, a sort of nouvelle cuisine take on creative Mexican cooking. Small, exquisite dishes, reasonably priced. We had the green salad, which was fresh and tasy, and the mole de tamarindo, which was excellent. Our other dish, a chile relleno was fine, if a tad odd with sour cream and cheese and bits of tortillas that were prepared just to the point of beginning to get crisp.

The food is accompanied by a good wine list, although they ding you a bit on the prices, which are a little out of scale with the food. We had beer, and it accompanied the food perfectly.

Chicago-style Pizza

Robin Slomkowski blogs about Chicago-style pizzas in San Francisco:

I actually got to have good Chicago Style Pizza in SF at Little Star. I tend to categorize Chicago style Pizza’s into Giordano’s (my favorite), Edwardo’s, Gino’s, and “Modern Chicago Uno’s” (Uno’s is generally credited as the creator of Chicago style pizza, but the chains stores out of Chicago don’t serve the same product, nor does Uno’s in Chicago compared to what it ued to make). Little Star is a pretty good take on Edwardo’s style.

I’m filing this away for future research.

The best deep-dish pizza in the wider San Francisco Bay Area is undoubtedly Zachary’s in Berkeley and Oakland (and now San Ramon, but I haven’t tried that one.

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