Tuesday, 17 July 2012

SF Eats

One of the very first stops pencilled into my great cross country scoffing itinerary was Humphry Slocombe. For the uninitiated HS are purveyors of ice creams and sorbets that are somewhat different to your standard Mr Whippy with strawberry sauce and a flake. I first became aware of them when I began to tweet regularly, in fact they were the one of the first people to reply to me, rather sweetly DM'ing some encouraging words of advice when I bought my first ice cream maker.

I would excitedly wait for the regular pictures of their flavour board to be posted on Twitter, before choosing the flavours I would pick if I lived five thousand miles closer. Secret Breakfast, Chocolate Smoked Sea Salt, Candy Cap, Government Cheese, McEvoy Olive Oil, they all sounded so exotic and so very far away. Until, finally, it was a dream no more; I had booked my trip to San Francisco, and was already planning a visit to The Mission to get my hands on my own cup of creamy goodness.

Mission and 24th, like our earlier visit to the Lower East Side in NY, became our second self-guided mini food tour. If we had read the guide book a little more closely we would have seen that this very road described as 'sketchy', 'dangerous' and 'a place to avoid', a shame as this is a unique, colourful and vibrant corner of town that is well worth a visit. While the mood may change after dark, the biggest threat we saw was from the hoards of kids mobbing the ice cream vendors pushing their carts down the road, and, with your wits about you, this really is a must-see San Franciscan Street.

It was perfect ice cream weather, not a cloud in the sky and the faintest of breezes to keep you from slumping in the heat. Although we had burritos to eat our first stop was Humphry Slocombe for my long awaited frozen desert.

The guy behind the counter, sporting a rather magnificent, auburn handlebar moustache, was very friendly, graciously listening to my excited babble about 'crossing the Atlantic to try these ice creams', and happily let us try multiple spoons worth of flavours to help us make up our minds.  He even described to us the special 'English' flavours, Spotted Dick and Eton Mess, that had been created for William and Kate's wedding last year (and no doubt resurrected for the Jubilee).

As is always the case the Jesus Juice I had been so excited to try (red wine and Coca Cola) was off the menu, but no worries as my second choice, their famed Secret Breakfast (bourbon and cornflake), has now become a permanent addition. We decided to combine it with a scoop of Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee, made from beans roasted by San Francisco's very own Blue Bottle Coffee Company and sweetened with condensed milk, Vietnamese style. In a pretence of getting some of our five a day we also chose two sorbets, the Basil and Lime and the Strawberry Margarita.

The infamous Warhol-esque ice cream sign. No feral kitten is not a flavour, read the very funny Humphry Slocombe book for the whole story.

I started with the cornflake/coffee combo while the Ewing hit up the sorbets. These were two very fine ice creams. The bourbon in the Secret Breakfast backed off enough to let the nutty, malted corn flavour through, while still packing a punch of its own, while the cornflake pieces had managed to stay pleasingly crisp. The Vietnamese Blue Bottle Coffee was a joy; good coffee ice cream, any coffee ice cream, is hard to find and this was Ambrosial. The richness of the condensed milk helped sweeten the bitter notes of the coffee, and every mouthful was smooth and fragrant. Simple perfection.

The sorbets were, for my tastes, far less successful. The flavour combos worked very nicely - fragrant basil and sharp lime and the punch of tequila against the sweet strawberry - but I found these both had a very salty aftertaste that, despite loving sweet-savoury flavours, I really didn't enjoy. Conversely the, thoroughly sweet-toothed, Ewing, found them perfect, and happily finished them off after I had given up after only a few mouthfuls.

As well as the ice creams and sorbets they had a grapefruit and Campari pop, that I would loved to have had room to try, and, until last weeks California-wide foie gras ban, a foie ice cream served in a ginger cookie 'sandwich'. As if that wasn't enough frozen goodness they also sell homemade chunks of cinnamon brittle at the counter, and pints of ice cream and Popsicles to carry out, too.

Sadly, even if there had been room, ice cream doesn't fare very well stored in a suitcase, so I have had to buy the recipe book and experiment myself at home. Peanut butter curry cone anyone?

Humphry Slocombe on Urbanspoon

After a trip to Casa Lucas for Mexican groceries we reached our next destination, Dynamo donuts, home of the maple glazed maple apple 'nut. Almost sensing our arrival, the waitress popped her head out of the serving hatch, saw two hot and bedraggled figures and exclaimed; 'it looks like you two are in need an iced coffee'. Music to our ears.

Drinks sorted, the next difficult decision was which doughnuts to sample. The idea of one each quickly went out the window, but common sense prevailed and although temped by all of flavours,  we stuck to just three. The Maple Bacon was a shoo in, the waitress recommended the Strawberry Earl Grey, and the Ewing couldn't resist the Chocolate, this time with rosemary and almond. (If any San Franciscan readers care to send me the cornmeal cherry, the foccacia or the lemon and pistachio flavours, I wouldn't try to stop you....)

After grabbing our haul, and doctoring our coffees with a little cream and honey, we made our way through the cafe area and into their beautiful walled gardens to enjoy our feast. A wonderful setting to try our wonderful looking pastries.

The bacon and strawberry versions were both yeast doughnuts. The bacon was delicious; an airy apple-studded dough, glazed with a maple frosting and topped with bacon 'sprinkles', the combination between sweet and salty perfectly weighted. The strawberry Earl Grey number was, surprisingly, even better. I thought it may be a little too sickly, but it was lightly perfumed with citrus and bergamot and shot through with tangy chunks of fresh strawberry. A quite lovely combination.

We were, at this point, almost defeated, and knowing there were burritos and tacos on the horizon the Chocolate Rosemary Almond doughnut was packed up for later. This was the only cake doughnut we tried, and it was well worth the wait. In contrast to our experience at HS, this time it was the Ewing who found the salty-sweet contrast provided by the almonds on top overwhelming, I thought it was just right; the rosemary-scented bitter chocolate dough topped off perfectly by the savoury shards of almond.

Dynamo Donuts & Coffee on Urbanspoon

The It's-It, the classic San Francisco ice cream sandwich since 1923. While its not quite as radical as the Humfrey Slocombe specials above, the combination of chewy oatmeal cookies and ice cream dipped in chocolate, can't go too far wrong. The vanilla is the original flavour, but it is now also available in chocolate mint and cappuccino varieties too.

A Mexican Coke with a Chelada chaser, the perfect hangover cure. OK, I may have exaggerated that slightly.... While the Mexican Coke was delicious (there is debate whether 'real' sugar really tastes any different to corn syrup, but everyone knows an Ice Cold Nice Cold Coke has few peers for curing a fuzzy head, especially when served in a thick glass bottle), the Chelada was a more' aquired' taste.

A (mi)chelada is a Mexican amalgamation of beer, spices and tomato juice, here Clamato, usually served in a salt rimmed glass. Sadly we only had polystyrene cups, and the beer was tepid by the time we came to try it. Not a particularly auspicious start. Maybe it would be good made with premium Mexican lager, served ice cold while lying in a hammock, a sea breeze gently blowing across the back of your neck. But here, in the stuffy motel room, served with a cup full of ice chips to cool it down, it was pretty undrinkable.

What better fond farewell to the US than some Gilroy Garlic Fries at AT&T Park. The vast amounts of minced garlic clinging to the crispy potatoes meant I had no chance of forgetting these beauties in a hurry; even when I was safely back on Blighty's shores they lingered with me for days... 

The fries are the 'signature' food of the San Francisco Giants (along with the Crazy Crab'z sandwich, which, for various long-winded reasons, we missed out on trying), and possibly the only snack to be served with a handful of peppermint candies on the side. Despite costing some extortionate amount of money (around seven bucks, if my memory serves me right) they went rather well with the equally extortionately priced plastic mug of Anchor Steam beer. a fitting finale to our eating adventures in the City by the Bay.

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