Tasting San Francisco


Braised Pork Belly


Last Monday, my husband and I had to take his car into the dealership in San Rafael (the closest one to the Mendocino Coast) for a recall repair. Luckily, it gave us the opportunity to spend the day in San Francisco and restock the pantry with some needed goodies. After filling out the necessary paperwork, the dealership shuttle dropped us off at the Larkspur Ferry terminal, and we caught the Golden Gate Ferry Napa to the city. It had rained all the way down from the coast, but the clouds started to break and the view of the bridge as we came around Angel Island was fantastic.
We docked at the San Francisco Ferry Building around ten, and went immediately to Boccalone for salumi. This delicious shop is run by Chris Cosentino of Incanto, and is one of the best places in the city to buy artisanal charcuterie. I stuffed my bag with two of my favorite dry salami, the brown-sugar and fennel seed ones, and added one of the orange peel with wild fennel for good measure. My husband commented that every dog in San Francisco was going to be following me around for the rest of the day. We also perused all of the other wonderful hand-made goodies in the marketplace, but decided to take advantage of a break in the weather to walk to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, our next stop.
We spent the remaining time before eleven browsing the museum’s vast book and gift shop, and joined the first round of visitors in the trek upstairs to see the Richard Avedon photographic exhibit. Since it was a Monday, and not a school holiday, the crowds were reasonable, and we were able to spend as much time as we wished wandering the galleries and appreciating the incredible collection of black and white portraiture. Before we knew it, we were getting hungry, and headed back out to Mission Street for the walk uptown to Charles Phan’s Heaven’s Dog. I had eaten several of the braised pork belly in clamshell buns during the Slow Food San Francisco Golden Glass tasting even in June, and wanted to check out the rest of the menu. We hiked up Mission from 4th to 8th, actually a total of about twelve long blocks, and were famished by the time we reached the restaurant around one.
Unlike the more elegant Slanted Door, this was a modern noodle shop, with colorful animal-themed artwork on the walls and a lavish bar. We were seated in the middle room off the bar, and a server was with us almost instantly, getting us tall glasses of water and menus. In addition to two orders of the pork belly (three per plate), we ordered the Shrimp Won Ton Soup for me and the Pork Fried Rice for my husband.
Braised Pork Belly
The pork belly was everything I remembered and more; unctuous slices of perfectly braised fat and meat, redolent of soy and rock sugar, served on the steamed clamshell bun with shaved green onion and a reduction of the braising liquid. Each one was about three to four bites, depending on how hungry you are, and just melted in my mouth.
My soup was hot and steaming; a large bowl filled with broth, thinly sliced char sui (Chinese BBQ pork, sans the ubiquitous red food coloring), cilantro, sliced green onions, about eight of the plump shrimp won tons and a big handful of thin rice vermicelli. The entire assemblage was topped with tiny crisp cubes of pork cracklings. The surprise of the day was when I bit into the first won ton. The filling in each dumpling had been topped with a splash of toasted sesame oil, and the first bite resulted in an explosion of warm sesame flavor, followed by the creamy shrimp filling. What a delight! My husband’s plate of rice was freshly fried, with crisp vegetables and sweet and tangy pork chunks. The only thing lacking, according to him, was a dollop of chili sauce to liven things up, but he finished it to the last grain.
After lunch, we walked back down Market Street to the Ferry Building, indulging in San Francisco people watching at its best. Arriving over thirty minutes before the next ferry, we waited on a bench facing the bay until the returning rain drove us into the terminal. It was as if the heavens had opened, and within minutes, the entire platform was awash and the rain was still coming down in sheets. The Ferry Mendocino arrived, dispatching its passengers into the storm, and we dashed up the platform into the warm, dry cabin. Our return to Larkspur was uneventful, and the sun came out once again while we waited for the shuttle back to the dealership. Later, we heard that they had gotten so much rain in San Francisco that the Market Street Muni line was closed due to flooding. We laughed as we resumed the return trip north, returning to a spectacular sunset over the Mendocino County hillsides, leaving the dark clouds in our wake.
The Ferry Mendocino
Post by Julia Conway on October 26th, 2009