I had a business trip to San Francisco last week, and I had a little struggle with myself. It goes like this: if you’re returning to a place with fabulous food, do you try only new places, or do you return to some of the places that were amazing before? I know it’s not all-or-nothing – you can do both, but I had a limited amount of time in San Francisco, and there are some places I just adore.
One of those places is Tadich Grill. It’s a venerable old establishment that serves serious seafood. It’s not fancy – this is your typical dark wood, small booth, big bar kinda joint. The waiters all seem to be Russian or Finnish – but nearly all are men, and nearly all are old enough to be grandfathers. They’re serious about the restaurant business, and they don’t suffer fools, but they do reward you with truly regal service and amazing food. On a real San Francisco summer day – high of 65, smizzly gray skies – I walked over to Tadich Grill and sat at the bar on my own. I knew what I wanted, so I didn’t even really bother with the menu – I wanted Cioppino. Never had it? Well, let me tell you, this is a bowl of joy. It’s a big bowl, too, loaded with crab meat, fish, scallops, mussels, clams and shrimp. The amount of meat in this tomato-based stew is phenomenal, and it was entirely too much for me, but I soldiered on, soaking up the delectable juice with the hunk of sourdough bread provided. I took my time – I enjoyed some wine, read a book, and moved serenely through that soup as though I would never eat again. And it was amazing.
Was I done? Oh, no. I had to go for the apple tart for dessert, with a double espresso, and I was well rewarded for my efforts. Bursting at the seams, I finally gave in and got the check. At that point I realized how decadent my lunch had been – that cioppino was $30 a bowl. Worth it? You bet. There was enough seafood in that one big bowl to feed a village. And it made my day.
Another one of the restaurants I’d been to before was SPQR, an Italian restaurant. On my previous visit I had been on my own, and I’d sat at the kitchen bar, watching the chefs make magic out of an insanely small kitchen. I’d eaten splendidly and enjoyed wonderful wine with my seatmate, a gentlemen who sold French Oak wine casks (neat, huh?). On this return trip I was with a coworker, and once again it was absolutely fantastic. We had a fantastic Sicilian tinto nero by the carafe – very reasonably priced – and then had the summer corn soup and the baby lettuce salad. The soup was a fantastic mix of sweet corn flavor with a swirl of tart lime to balance it out. The baby lettuce salad was simple, fresh, and clean tasting.
We each had the short rib fagottini as our entree, and I have to say – an appetizer and a primi are the perfect quantity of food for anyone who’s NOT in the mood for a gut-buster. (Left room for dessert!) The pasta was perfect – the short rib filling was super tender, moist and melt-in-your-mouth. Every bite was a pleasure. We finished with a malted chocolate cake that was out-of-this-world delicious, and a tiramisu that was classic and also lovely, but paled in comparison to the cake. Everything was perfect – the food was delicious and unique, the wine was tasty and reasonable, and our servers were deft, prompt, helpful and gracious. I know that there are probably zillions more restaurants to try in San Francisco, but I can’t help but think that these two meals were definitely worth the repeat performances!