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Aftershock

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As many of you have heard by now, there was a 6.1 earthquake that rocked Napa County this past Sunday morning at 3:30am. Lucky for me (and not so lucky for her), Annie P. was staying with me at my apartment in Napa that night, and we woke up from the noise and violent tremors clutching each other, screaming and cursing. We couldn’t even hear the sound of all my dishes and glassware breaking, or my dresser falling to the floor next to my bed – just the sound of my entire building shaking. It was the most terrifying experience I have ever had, and will probably be one of the most memorable moments of my lifetime.

After 20 seconds of shaking, Annie P. and I were both able to find our phones and a flashlight relatively quickly. Then she heard the sound of water pouring out from somewhere. I opened my bedroom door to this sight:

dining_day

This was actually taken in the daytime, once I could get proper photos.

kitchen_floor

As the tears came, I heard one of my neighbors yelling outside, “is everyone okay?”. I told her “we’re not hurt, but my apartment is a disaster.” Then my upstairs neighbor came out of his apartment, and told me that his water heater had broke and he needed to turn the water off. So that’s where the leaking was coming from. Water came into my kitchen and mixed with the spilled wine, seeping into the back of my bedroom and bathroom. As Annie P. and I worked quickly to move things from the floor and protect them from water, my neighbors finally found a way to turn the water off.

After surveying the damage in the dark, we realized there was nothing we could do until daylight, so we gathered with my neighbors outside. First we were all attempting to call our parents and loved ones, but Annie P. had the only working phone so she graciously let us use hers. One of my neighbors got out some water for us to drink, and turned on his car radio so we could listen to the coverage. Before we knew it, 5:30am rolled around and a 3.6 aftershock hit, which didn’t do any more damage but it certainly scared the sh*t out of us. The sky began to lighten, and Annie P. and I decided to sleep for a few hours before waking up to search for coffee and clean what we could. I do not know what I would have done without her. I was paralyzed.

Damage at Carpe Diem, a downtown restaurant

Damage at Carpe Diem, a downtown restaurant

Trying to be a sober driver, this guy left his car parked downtown on Saturday night. It's actually a rental car.

Trying to be a sober driver, this guy left his car parked downtown on Saturday night. It’s actually a rental car.

As news broke of other damaged properties and wineries, I realized a) there was a lot worse damage than my own, and b) how lucky everyone was that the earthquake occurred at 3:30am so that nobody was in any of the properties with severe destruction. Unbelievably, the winery I work for wasn’t damaged at all – not a broken bottle or barrel in sight. But Napa Valley Register estimates 1 billion dollars worth of damage to Napa County, with much of it coming from the wine industry, whether in barrels, tanks, bottles or structures. Fortunately for some, harvest is nearly upon us so a lot of the wine had already been bottled and moved to other facilities.

One of my favorite wineries, Trefethen, was one of the wineries that had very little wine inside their winemaking facility. But they had structural damage that split parts of the building, making it impossible to enter. They are hopeful – as am I – that they will be able to reconstruct the property without losing too much of the original structure. Silver Oak’s library cellar was basically a pile of wine bottles, some broken and some in tact, but nonetheless shook up. I keep receiving emails from wineries with updates on their damage, but every email starts with how grateful they are for the fact that nobody was hurt. I am still amazed by this, and although the damage to my “stuff” has certainly been an inconvenience, I understand how lucky I am to come out unscathed.

It turns out I only lost about 12 bottles out of 120+, half of which are unfortunately irreplaceable. But I have a load of survivor bottles, and every time I open one I will remember what my new home and I went through, and how we came together, and survived.

Amazeballs

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As you may have heard, “amazeballs” was recently added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, along with “hangry”, “douchebagery” and my personal favorite, “totes”. I’ve been using the word amazeballs since I was a wee sorority girl, so I’m all for this addition of popular slang; especially when I can use such a word to describe a meal!

Last week Panini Girl posted a recipe for eggplant meatballs that she picked up from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, which I will soon be getting a copy of. Panini Girl knows her stuff when it comes to Italian food, and as she writes in her post, she is very picky about meatballs. So I knew that if she liked it as much as she said she did, then the recipe had to be attempted by yours truly! And when I saw some beautiful, huge eggplants at the Sonoma Farmer’s market on Tuesday, I knew the cooking Gods were telling me something.

eggplant

Beautiful eggplant from the Sonoma Farmers Market

Setting up for my first dinner party!

Setting up for my first dinner party!

This past Friday presented the perfect opportunity when I hosted my very first Napa dinner party. In attendance were two coworkers, a vegetarian friend and her meat-eating boyfriend, and my upstairs neighbor. I knew it was a risky move to make something I had never made before that also required quite a bit of prep, but I was determined! I doubled the recipe because there were six of us, and I also made some farro, green beans, and a Greek salad. Needless to say, there was a bit too much food. But better to overserve than underserve!

Eggplant Meatballs aka Amazeballs (serves 8-10)

  • 2 large purple, shiny eggplants
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 4 x 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning
  • 5 fresh basil leaves, torn, plus 2 TB fresh minced basil
  • 5 cups whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 4 eggs, whisked
  • 4 oz shredded Parmesan
  • 2 TB minced parsley
  • 1 cup flour for coating, or more as needed
  • vegetable oil, for frying

Preheat the oven to 350. Poke the eggplants all over with a fork, then place on a rimmed baking sheet and cook for one 60-75 minutes, or until inside is completely tender. Let cool for a few minutes.

The skins will be crinkly and brown when it's ready.

The skins will be crinkly and brown when it’s ready.

Meanwhile, in a large pot (big enough to fit tomato sauce and all the meatballs) heat the olive oil over a medium-high flame. Add 3 cloves of garlic and crush with a wooden spoon, then sauté for about two minutes. Add onion and red pepper flakes and sauté for another two minutes, until onions begin to soften. Add tomatoes and their juice, salt and Italian seasoning and heat until the sauce begins to bubble. Then lower heat to medium-low and cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

tomato sauce

Peel eggplant and discard skins. In a large bowl, use your hands to mix eggplant, bread crumbs, eggs, the rest of the garlic (minced), Parmesan, parsley, minced basil, salt and pepper. Form the mixture into golfball-sized balls and coat each in a thin layer of flour, then set onto a platter covered with wax paper.

Pour oil into a large, cast-iron skillet so that it’s about 1 inch deep. Heat over a medium-high flame, then test heat by adding a small piece of the eggplant mixture. If it sizzles, then the oil is hot enough. Using tongs, add half of the eggplant balls into the oil and cook for 2-3 minutes, until browned and crispy. Then turn and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl or plate lined with paper towel, and cook the next batch of eggplant balls.

amazeballs

fried amazeballs

Warm sauce over a medium flame, and add torn basil leaves. If too thick, add a bit of water and continue to cook. Once the sauce has reached a desired consistency, add the meatballs and cook for about 10 minutes over a medium-low flame. Transfer to a large serving bowl and serve with a side of farro, pasta, or toasty bread – or just eat as is!

photo 4

These eggplant balls were a HUGE hit, even with the carnivores! The consistency was perfect, and they actually tasted a little bit like meat. They were very hearty and flavorful, and were just as good the next day. We had a wide selection of wine at the meal because several of us had brought bottles of mostly full Cabernet that were left over from various work tastings (one of the many industry perks). I also served a Seghesio Barbera that one of my coworkers brought, which paired nicely with the Italian flavors in the amazeballs.

Special thanks to Panini Girl for sharing this recipe with her readers, and an even bigger thanks to my friends who joined me for my first Napa Dinner Party! There will be many more to come :)

Tuesdays with Kelsey

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Tuesday is officially my favorite day of the week. St. Clair Brown, a new wine kitchen that is just a five minute walk away, hosts a Locals Night on Tuesdays where they offer half off all glasses of wine. And if you’re a member – like me – then you get an additional 10% off everything you order, plus one FREE glass of wine! My bill last Tuesday was only $20 for three glasses of wine and an order of hummus, including an on-the-house sampling of some reds that I had not yet tried. It was actually my third time there in a week… obsessed much? Yes.

photo 2

This Tuesday I ventured out of my neighborhood and took a short drive to Sonoma Plaza with my new coworker, who shall be known as Kitty from this point forth. On Tuesdays the town of Sonoma hosts a farmer’s market in the historical plaza on the square, which is also the only city park in California to allow open containers until dusk. Add some live music and you have the perfect al fresco dinner!

peppers

tomatoes

Kitty and I perused some of the farm stands before setting up blanket in the park. I was in awe of the colorful displays of bell peppers, heirloom tomatoes, and enormous eggplant! After picking up a bounty of fresh produce (along with the yellow tomatoes and squash that Kitty gave me from her garden), we checked out some of the hot food stands. We didn’t get too far before stopping at a Thai stand to pick up some tofu pad thai and fresh tofu spring rolls. The spring rolls were wrapped in Chinese pancakes (the kind you get with moo shu pork), which I loved! The pad thai could have been a little spicier, but I loved the earthy components from the roasted peppers and baked tofu.

pad thai

donuts

Next up: coconut lemongrass soup from Chai’s Gourmet. The soup was savory yet sweet, and not too creamy – with big chunks of kabocha squash. Kitty spotted Harvey’s Mini Donut Truck and put an order in for key lime donuts: mini donut holes with sweet key lime glaze and graham cracker crumbs. I had four! And I don’t even like donuts!

photo 5

We enjoyed all of these delicious bites with a bottle of 2012 Archery Summit Premier Cuvée Pinot Noir, a wine from the collection at my new company (and coincidentally, a favorite winery of mine). The Pinot is incredibly versatile, and actually paired pretty well with the pad thai and spring rolls. As for the donuts, I would have paired those with a creamy Chardonnay. They also had a maple bacon donut, which would go perfectly with Syrah! I see a donut-wine-pairing post in my future…

Tomato and Basil Forever

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It’s been a whirlwind week for me! Between packing up my apartment in San Francisco, moving into my new apartment in Napa, unpacking, furniture shopping, more unpacking, and exploring my new neighborhood, I barely had time to go grocery shopping until yesterday. Though, I did have a chance on Saturday to pick up some beautiful produce at the Napa Farmer’s Market: heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumber, basil, and lemons. These simple ingredients were the perfect inspiration for my first two home cooked meals in my new apartment!

Heirloom Tomato, Burrata, Basil Salad

  • 2-3 ripe heirloom tomatoes in various colors, sliced
  • 1/2 lemon cucumber, sliced
  • 3 oz fresh Burrata (I recommend Di Stefano)
  • 5 fresh basil leaves, torn
  • good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

heirloom

Arrange the tomato and cucumber slices on a platter, alternating between colors. Top with Burrata and basil, then drizzle with olive oil and balsamic and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Seared Scallops with Tomato Water, Lemon and Basil

  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
  • kosher salt
  • 6 sea scallops
  • 1 TB safflower oil, or vegetable oil
  • 3 basil leaves, torn
  • squeeze of half a lemon

scallops

Start by making the tomato water. Place tomatoes in a small colander or mesh sieve over a bowl and salt generously. Let sit for 45 minutes, stirring and mashing occasionally. Then heat a nonstick pan over a medium-high flame. Once hot, add oil and heat for about a minute. Carefully add scallops and cook for 2 minutes, then flip and cook for another minute and a half. Transfer to a plate with a paper towel to get rid of excess oil, then place into a shallow bowl. Pour tomato water into the bowl, and top with basil and a squeeze of lemon. This recipe is adapted from Bon Appetit, based on the ingredients I had on hand. I also didn’t have a sieve so I used a colander, which allowed more tomato seeds to seep through to the bowl – I didn’t mind, but some people may not like the texture.

Yellow and Red Tomatoes with Burrata and Farro

  • 1/3 cup cooked farro
  • 3-4 small yellow and red tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 oz Burrata
  • 4 basil leaves, julienned
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Prepare farro as directed. Place farro on a plate, then top with tomatoes, Burrata, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper.

chicken

Grilled Lemon Basil Chicken

  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 TB Gewürztraminer vinegar, or any good white wine vinegar
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • olive oil spray

In a small bowl, whisk together the first six ingredients. Pour marinade over chicken and seal in an air-tight bag or container, then refrigerate overnight. When ready to cook, remove chicken from container and drip off excess marinade. Heat a gas grill or grill pan over a medium-high flame and spray generously with olive oil. Cook chicken for 5-6 minutes on each side, then check for doneness by slicing into the thickest part. If still pink, continue to cook for a few more minutes. Serve alongside tomatoes with Burrata and farro.

All of these dishes are fresh and light, and use many of the same ingredients. So as long as you don’t get sick of tomato, basil and Burrata (who would??), these easy meals are delicious, relatively inexpensive options when cooking for one. I suggest pairing with a dry Rose, Chenin Blanc, or my favorite summer cocktail: Campari and soda!

campari

My San Franfavorites

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This Wednesday, I’ll be packing up my apartment in San Francisco (including 150+ bottles of wine) and moving to the town of Napa. I could not be more excited! I’m going to be doing marketing for Crimson Wine Group, a company that owns and operates six luxury wine brands, including Pine Ridge, Seghesio, Archery Summit and Chamisal. It’s a great company with lots of opportunities for growth, and I am so happy to be a part of it.

Although it’s a little bittersweet leaving behind my beloved San Francisco, I know this is the right move for me. Everyone keeps asking me, “are you going to miss living in SF?” I’m not really going to miss the city as a whole, but there are certainly several things that I am sad to leave behind:

The farm stand on Geary and 4th. It has the cheapest, cleanest, freshest vegetables in the whole city and you can get a weeks worth of produce there for under $10.

B Star Bar. This is my favorite neighborhood restaurant. I could literally eat there four times a week and not get sick of it because the menu is so diverse. Some highlights are tea leaf salad, ochazuke, b sprouts, and miso cod.

The Kabuki. The best place to see a movie in San Francisco. Not only can you bring wine into the theatre with you (purchased from the bar, though I have been known to sneak in a bottle and some plastic glasses), but they also have a great selection of food and gourmet treats. They also play home to the SF International Film Festival every year.

Dim Sum. My favorite hangover cure… crispy shrimp balls, shanghai dumplings, pork buns, garlic noodles! I recently tried Golden River in the Richmond District and was in awe of how cheap it was, coupled with how friendly the service was. I also love Yank Sing, but it’s a bit expensive and always crowded.

The beach. My favorite beach in the city is Baker Beach, and there is a not-so-secret spot in Seacliff at the end of 25th Ave where you can park and walk down the hill to the ocean. Though, there are hardly enough days in the year with weather warm enough to enjoy the SF beaches!

The Ferry BuildingNot only is this one of the most beautiful buildings in Downtown San Francisco, but it has some great little eateries and specialty shops that are perfect for a lunch hour. I particularly love the spring rolls at Out The Door, and the cheese samples at Cowgirl Creamery. On Saturdays they have a great farmers market, and on Wednesdays there is a bevy of food stands outside serving up tasty lunches. My favorite is the ramen bowl from Hapa Ramen!

My amazing friends. I have made the most incredible group of friends in this city over the last seven years. College friends that have transplanted here, people from my old softball team, a group of wine lovers, several different groups of ex-coworkers, the Tuesday Haight Club alumni, and many other people that I am lucky to call my friends. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with everyone, and set time aside to see each person, but I know that they will always be my friends no matter how much time or space we spend apart from each other. And I’ll only be an hour away, so I’m sure I’ll have a lot of visitors :)

Shrimp Fra Diavolo

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Last week I splurged and bought the $17.99 frozen Wild Argentinian Red Shrimp from Trader Joe’s. They don’t always carry them at my local Trader Joe’s, so I usually pick a bag up if I can spot them. I suppose it’s a high price tag for TJ’s, but a pound of frozen shrimp goes a long way when you’re cooking for one. I usually use 4 shrimp for one meal since they’re so big, or double it up if I plan on having leftovers. To defrost, place how ever many shrimp in a sealed ziploc bag and put in a large bowl of warm water for about 30 minutes, or until no longer frozen. Then cook and use in a salad, stir fry, as an entree, or in a pasta.

Last night I was in the mood for something tomatoey, so I decided to make Shrimp Fra Diavolo. In place of canned crush tomatoes, I picked up a pint of assorted cherry tomatoes at my local farm stand, along with some fresh basil. The rest of the ingredients were on hand, and I even got to use a mini bottle of Limoncello that I had been saving for some sort of Italian occasion!

tomatoes

Shrimp Fra Diavolo (serves 2)limoncello

  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1/2 lb jumbo shrimp (about 8), peeled and deveined
  • 6 oz dried linguine
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup Limoncello
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning
  • 10 basil leaves, julienned
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Parmesan, for serving

Set a medium-sized pot of water to boil. Once boiling, add linguine and cook for 8 minutes. Strain and run a bit of cold water over the pasta to keep from sticking. Set aside in strainer.

pasta

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high flame. Generously season shrimp with salt and pepper. Once the pan is hot, sear shrimp for two minutes on each side. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 30 seconds, then transfer shrimp to a plate.

shrimp

Add Limoncello and wine, then stir in tomatoes. Add lemon juice and Italian seasoning and sauté for 3 minutes. Crush the tomatoes using a slotted spoon, and cook for another 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if needed.

fra diavolo

Add shrimp back into the pan and toss to coat with sauce, then add pasta and toss to combine. Top with basil and serve with grated parmesan.

photo-7

I enjoyed this meal with the white wine that I used to make the sauce, Navarro Vineyards 2012 Mendocino Chardonnay. It’s light and bright with subtle oak flavors and hints of citrus; very adaptable in regards to pairing with food. I was very pleased with this pick since I didn’t have a lot to choose from – most of my wines are packed up for my impending move to Napa… but that’s another story.

A Night to Remember at Zuni Cafe

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Everyone is always asking me, “What is your favorite restaurant in San Francisco?” You’d think that with the abundance of fine dining options in this city, this would be a hard question to answer. But for me it’s easy. Hands down, Zuni Café is my favorite SF restaurant and always will be. It was the location of my first dining experience in San Francisco when I came to interview for my first job nearly seven years ago. Zuni was also the location of my last meal on the eve of my knee surgery in 2010. And one time, I even powered through an entire meal at Zuni with my parents, while I was fighting a 24 hour stomach bug, which I claimed was from drinking bad wine.

The bar at Zuni features artisan cocktails, and the talented mixologists will make you anything that tickles your fancy.

The Zuni bar features artisan cocktails, and the talented mixologists will work to make you anything that tickles your tastebuds.

A few weeks ago when I was telling a friend that it was my favorite restaurant in the city, another friend chimed in and said, “oh my God, the chicken is out of this world amazing.” I coyly admitted that in the six times I had been to Zuni, I had never once ordered the famed chicken. I always wanted to, but then I would see something else on the menu that would catch my appetite and I wouldn’t want to wait the full hour to eat my entree. My friend was shocked, and I vowed to her that I would go to Zuni and order the chicken this month – and I made a reservation on the spot with my handy Opentable app.

The time finally came last night. My anticipation for this chicken was making me crazy, and I began to worry that I was building it up so much that I would end up being somehow disappointed. Wrong. Zuni did not disappoint. In fact, they exceeded my already sky-high expectations and it was without a doubt the best meal I have had at Zuni since living in seven years, and one of the top five best meals of my life.

I was joined at dinner by three close girl friends. One who had been to Zuni even more times than me, but had never had the chicken; one who had been to Zuni a couple times but had never had the chicken; and one who had never even been to Zuni at all but had heard about the chicken. We agreed in advance that we would share the chicken as our entree, and order several other small dishes to enjoy before the arrival of the bird. We selected a few oysters, the Piccolo fritto, Montauk scallop ceviche, ricotta gnocchi, and Caesar salad – served in that order. It was the perfect amount of food to share, and still leave us hungry for the star of the meal. A particular standout was the gnocchi, which melted in my mouth and had an unimaginable lightness to it.

Piccolo fritto: deep-fried Monterey Bay squid, onions and lemon with aioli

Piccolo fritto: deep-fried Monterey Bay squid, onions and lemon with aioli

Montauk scallop ceviche with avocado, radishes, Padron peppers, and tortilla chips

Montauk scallop ceviche with avocado, radishes, Padron peppers, and tortilla chips

Bellwether Farms ricotta gnocchi with Hen of the Woods mushrooms, shallots and tarragon

Bellwether Farms ricotta gnocchi with Hen of the Woods mushrooms, shallots and tarragon

The chicken was outstanding. Crispy and salty on the outside, and juicy and tender on the inside – just as it should be. It’s a huge portion and although they suggest sharing for two, you can easily share with four people. I tasted every part of the bird – leg, breast, and thigh – and each one was delicious and unique. The salad was light and flavorful, with generous portions of toasted crunchy bread and perfectly seasoned greens. It was so good, that I found myself urging our neighbors to order the chicken when I overheard them trying to make a decision. I’m not usually one to boast about chicken – let alone order it at restaurants – but it’s truly the best chicken of my lifetime!

The Chicken: roasted in the brick oven, over a warm bread salad with scallions, garlic, dried currants, and pine nuts.

The Chicken: roasted in the brick oven, over a warm bread salad with scallions, garlic, dried currants, and pine nuts.

I also brought two bottles of wine in an effort to keep the bill at a reasonable amount (Zuni has an extensive and very expensive wine list, but only charges $20 per bottle for corkage): a Red Car 2012 Vivio Vineyard Roussanne and a JAQK Cellars 2006 Soldiers of Fortune Shiraz. The aged Shiraz – which is more like a Rhone-style Syrah – went perfectly with the chicken, highlighting the smokiness in the meat and the herbs in the bread salad.

A little Roussanne to start off the meal.

A little Roussanne to start off the meal.

The first vintage of JAQK Cellars Soldiers of Fortune Syrah - my favorite from the winery.

The first vintage of JAQK Cellars Soldiers of Fortune Syrah – my favorite from the winery.

We finished off the meal with some butterscotch pot de creme and Challerhocker cheese with nectarine and almonds, and I couldn’t resist ordering a glass of Fonseca NV Bin 27 Port. I only tried a bite of the cheese because I was too obsessed with the pot de creme to even put my fork down. I’m not huge on desserts, but I know when the time is right to engage my sweet tooth, and this was certainly it.

Butterscotch pot de creme with bourbon whipped cream and hazelnut praline.

Butterscotch pot de creme with bourbon whipped cream and hazelnut praline.

Challerhocker cheese with nectarine slices and dry roasted almonds.

Challerhocker cheese with nectarine slices and dry roasted almonds.

As you can see, the food was outstanding and presented with the utmost attention, while still maintaining a somewhat rustic feel. Our server was watchful (and pretty easy on the eyes), but not overly attentive. Our bill came in at just over $200, which was more affordable than I expected – probably thanks to the corkage.

Zuni is a MUST for any foodie, whether an SF local or visitor to this culinary city. And if you are a visitor and you’re only able to go once, do yourself a favor and order the chicken. It’s a shame I took so long to do it myself, but it was certainly worth the wait.

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