Last May, I got the approval to attend a Monday seminar in San Francisco. Instead of flying in Sunday night, I decided to come into town Saturday morning just so I can check out whatever food scene I could explore in just two days. Click here to read about Day 1. When it came to Sunday, Day 2, I visited a trio of restaurants definitely worth a second visit. On my agenda for Sunday morning was to first pay a visit to Brenda's French Soul Food.
I actually got a tip about Brenda's from friend and fellow Filipina food blogger, Princess Gourmet, who told me that Brenda's was owned by a Filipina American Chef. Since I'm always up for supporting Pinoy-Owned Businesses, I knew that French Soul food was definitely on the menu for that weekend. Another tip I was given was to get to Brenda's early because lines were going to be pretty crazy. So when I arrived, the first thing I did was put my name on the chalkboard.
After taking a good look at the long narrow restaurant space, it was quite obvious why there could be a long wait. Space was at a minimum. Luckily, as a party of 1, I was able to jump over larger parties and even a couple of parties of 2. They mean it when they say that your whole party better be there or else, it's on to the next name on the list.
When I sat down, I first enjoyed a glass of Sweet Watermelon House Tea. That drink was really refreshing. I actually asked for a to go cup after my brunch so that I wouldn't waste a drop.
Finally, I put my food order in and the first thing to arrive was the Chicken, Sausage and Okra Gumbo. The soup was chock full of all the ingredients that I just listed; however, it lacked a depth of flavor. There was a little bit of heat at the tip of your tongue, but then it dissipated as you swallowed the spoonful of soup. It was lacking something.
Brenda's is known for their beignets and being in a savory mood, I went for the Crawfish Beignet spiced with cayenne, scallions and cheddar. One thing I didn't know was that all the beignets came in an order of 3. If I knew that, I would have just gotten the Beignet Flight, which included a sampling of all 4 beignets. Instead, three good size Crawfish Beignets arrived at my table to my rounded eyes.
Unfortunately, I could only finish one of them, but I really enjoyed it. The beignet itself was soft and airy and I liked the dusting of cayenne/chili pepper on the surface of the bread. As for the filling, I would have liked a little more crawfish, but the cheese, the scallions and the seasoning was spot on.
My brunch entree was a special for the day and was a Creole Seafood Fritatta with crawfish, shrimp, andouille sausage, cheddar and scallions with grits. The fritatta was really delicious, but what I remembered more than the fritatta were the grits. I haven't had too many experiences with grits, but if they all tasted like the grits at Brenda's, it's something I'd definitely be on the lookout for it more. It was rich, creamy and buttery. So rich that eating the entire bowl would have been impossible, but I still made a pretty good dent into it.
I'm really glad that I paid a visit to Brenda's. The ambiance was lively and vibrant and the food was the same way. Brenda's was definitely a foreshadowing for the rest of my food journey in San Francisco because my next two restaurant stops were also pretty fantastic. To give me time to digest my meal and to also enjoy some San Francisco culture, I paid a visit to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, took an audio tour and also checked out the Bali Exhibit. A few hours later, I took a walk to Mercury Lounge.
Mercury Lounge is owned by Filipino Chef, Dominic Ainza. Although the food at Mercury Lounge is considered Pan-Asian, Chef Dominic does showcase his Filipino heritage in some of the dishes on his menu and that was especially true for the two dishes I had for lunch. It started with the Adobo Fried Rice, a pulled pork adobo fried rice with a fried egg. Simply, it was delicious and that's all I really need to say.
Dessert was all about the Pan de Sal Bread Pudding which was topped with vanilla ice cream and coconut caramel sauce. In truth, bread pudding is not a dessert I'd usually go for, but since this particular bread pudding was using Filipino sweet bread, I knew I had to have it. It was simply amazing. What I liked about the pan de sal was that it was more airy and light as opposed to being dense. Also, the coconut caramel sauce added a nice tropical touch.
Mercury Lounge was a wonderful lunch stop and I fell in love with the restaurant even more when I visited it a few weeks later, but that's another post altogether. By the way, while taking photos outside of Mercury Lounge, I spotted this Cow with some kind of cheetah or maybe, giraffe print hanging outside a front entrance of a bar and just had to include it in this post. Interesting, huh?
Dinner tonight was going to be in the company of some of my Kapamealya friends and was going to be at Zuni Cafe. Ever since I had a taste of my friend's version of Zuni Chicken, which Zuni Cafe is known for, and loved it, I've always wanted to try the original dish. This was definitely going to be the night.
By the way, we were seated upstairs, which made for some nice photos of the bar below us.
Since the Zuni Chicken takes an hour to prepare and it says so on the menu, we went ahead and ordered other dishes to start our meal with. First was the Marinated Beets with shaved fennel, toasted almonds, mint, shallots and ginger. It was a nice light dish where all the flavors harmonized together without competing with each other. Considering that three of the ingredients were ginger, mint and fennel, this dish really showed the deft touch of the chef.
Our second dish was the Merguez sausage with fried chickpeas, grilled spring onions and harissa sauce. The sausage and the harissa sauce added a nice bit of heat to our taste buds without being overwhelming. I also could have easily eaten a whole bowl of those fried chickpeas.
Following the sausage came the Bellwether Farms ricotta gnocchi with pea leaves and morel mushrooms. The gnocchi were cooked perfectly, which meant that they were soft and fluffy and the morel mushrooms added a nice hit of earthiness that made this dish even more enjoyable to eat.
Also on board was the Wild Arugula Salad with first-of-the-season County Line Farm summer squash and caper vinaigrette. What I loved about this salad was that it wasn't fussy in that there were too many ingredients. The peppery arugula paired well with the tangy caper vinaigrette.
Then the Polenta with Mascarpone made its apperance and what a spoonful after spoonful of creamy goodness that was.
Finally, the star attraction arrived in the form of roasted chicken tossed with a warm bread salad of scallions, red mustard greens, currants and pine nuts. The chicken itself was moist and tender.
There was also a lot of nice textures to this dish by way of the warm bread salad between the softened; yet, slightly crispy bread and the light crunch of the pine nuts. The slight bitterness of the greens also went well with the dark berry flavor of the currants. Overall, this was a chicken dish really worth waiting for.
To end, Zuni Cafe was a great way to end my San Francisco foodie journey. Monday was all about hotel food at the seminar that I came to San Francisco to attend in the first place and then a flight back home. Except for the one restaurant experience on Day 1, every other place I dined at during my weekend in San Francisco was stellar and I definitely see why San Franciscans are proud of their local dining scene.
Brenda's French Soul Food
652 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94102
1582 Folsom St
San Francisco, CA 94103
1658 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102