San Francisco tried to kill me (guest post)

Ivan Ross Vrána, Principal at Aslan Ross Consulting, has been on another food visit.  Here he recommends several San Francisco restaurants (but not the one that almost killed him).  If you have San Francisco restaurants you’d like to suggest, please let us know.  And lesson learned — food poisoning can happen anywhere!

For more of Ivan Ross’ eating advice, check out his article on Prague’s food scene.  


Photo by Ivan Ross Vrána

Ah … San Francisco. Photo by Ivan Ross Vrána

 San Francisco tried to kill me (but the trip was still worth it)

As a travel destination and a place to enjoy really good food a lot has been written and filmed about San Francisco.  So when I came out here to visit my niece and her boyfriend I thought I would try to provide my own unique perspective.  But then I thought “ah whatever I write will be just like everyone else’s take on the city.”

Ha – little did I know that near the end of my visit I would encounter a diabolical bout of food poisoning that saw my body try extradite the very fibre of my being through every orifice over a 12 hour period.   Those of you who have had this lovely little affliction know I am not exaggerating.

Everything started off really well.  I left Ottawa in the midst of a snowstorm and some of the coldest temperatures this year (-22 Celsius). I was even upgraded to Business Class – when does that ever happen with Air Canada – and arrived in San Francisco where it was +18.  Walking down the jet way people must of thought I was nuts as I was laughing out loud and mumbling to myself how lucky I was to escape the Canadian winter.

And how can you not be charmed by a city that has neighbourhoods with such names as “Nob Hill” (I thought that was a joke at first), “Russian Hill”, “The Presidio”, “The Tenderloin”, “The Mission” and my favourite, the “Dog Patch”.

I met my niece’s boyfriend at their apartment (which is in between Nob Hill and the Tenderloin) and he took me for lunch at a place right around the corner.  Bite is a very small place that offers great sandwiches.  All of the chicken is cooked right there in a small rotisserie and they have these massive pickles for $1.50.  I had the “Sleeper” which was essentially their take on a chicken and bacon sandwich on a soft roll for only $8.00.  Being able to eat it on a patio in February – how could anyone complain?

Croques and coffees at Tartine. Photo by Ivan Ross Vrána.

Croques and coffees at Tartine. Photo by Ivan Ross Vrána.

The next day my niece took me to the Tartine Bakery, located in the Mission, for a great breakfast.  I was told it is a San Francisco institution.  Well, I guess so because at 10:30 am on a Thursday the place was packed and there was a line-up down the sidewalk.  The good news is that the line moves fast, I think we waited for perhaps 15 minutes.

We both ordered a croque monsieur along with one of their chocolate éclairs.  Now being from Canada, living in Ottawa and someone who has an affinity for Quebec, I tend to judge harshly anyone who tries to take on these French classics (the same goes for poutine).  No doubt, the croque was very good, but it was the chocolate éclair that really did me in.  The top was done in dark chocolate (and, being a non-dark chocolate fan, I was surprised at how well it worked).  And of course the crème in the middle – well just make sure you eat it over a plate so you don’t miss any.  (Ed. note: a non-dark chocolate fan?! How is that possible?!)

Dandelion Chocloate

Hot/cold chocolate at Dandelion. Photo by Ivan Ross Vrána.

As if that wasn’t enough, we stopped of at a place around the corner called Dandelion Small Batch Chocolates, which, of course, makes all kinds of different chocolates.  What I liked was that the whole production process is right in the shop so you can see how they do it from processing the chocolate pods to the finished product.  The staff are very friendly and are more than happy to talk about what they do.  We ordered a “cold/hot chocolate” which was not too thick nor to sweet – it was better than drinking a milk shake or a chocolate milk.

Next up, the Comstock for dinner.  What a great and fun place.  They know how to pour an excellent drink so be careful because they can sneak up on you (just try their excellent Pisco Punch and you will know what I mean).  The food is also very good – one of my favourite meals of the entire trip.   Fried chicken livers on toast (which I ordered twice), lamb meatballs and sardines made for great appetizers.  As for the main: I would happily argue with anyone that it’s the Comstock’s roast chicken (basted, I can only imagine, in a lot of butter) that sets them apart.  If I had the stomach of a Sumo wrestler I would have ordered another one – but I made due with my niece’s leftovers and then rolled out of there with a very content (slightly drunk) smile on my face.

The Hard Knox Cafe

Hard Knox Café. Photo by Ivan Ross Vrána.

The last place I want to mention is the Hard Knox Café, located in the Dog Patch.  My niece (who is going to grad school at the San Francisco Art Institute) found this place, as it is directly across the street from her studio.  For a student who is on a very limited budget (just think American tuition and the low Canadian dollar) this has turned out to be one of her favourite places to eat. The Dog Patch is outside of downtown, so I would suggest taking a cab (or if you like, use Uber) as it is the quickest way to get there and is definitely worth the trip.

The Hard Knox does southern food and I know that in the U.S. places like this are very popular.  However, I understand there are not that many on the west coast and not many that are actually good.  The Hard Knox then stands out from the crowd.  A small place, it gives off the vibe of what I really like about American local bars – that is, these places are relaxed and friendly and the quality is in the food and drink.  A pitcher of Stella only cost $12 and a main with two sides was also $12 (and it comes with free corn bread that was very good).

Hard Knox's specialty. Photo by Ivan Ross Vrána.

Hard Knox’s specialty. Photo by Ivan Ross Vrána.

The Hard Knox is known for their fried chicken.  With this and a side of mac ‘n’ cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, I was a very happy diner.  My niece regularly gets the catfish or shrimp po’boy with the collard greens which I can attest are excellent options.  If I come back to San Francisco, the Hard Knox Café is a first on my list of places to return to.  I kind of regret not buying the t-shirt.

Well then, how did I end up praying for a quick end to my life while hugging the toilet and cursing my hubris in leaving Ottawa in the middle of a deep freeze?  I  must have upset somebody – maybe it was the video of me walking in the sea at Ocean Beach that I had sent to my friends back home that did me in – someone must have put a curse on me.

Hard Knox corn bread. Photo by Ivan Ross Vrána.

Hard Knox corn bread. Photo by Ivan Ross Vrána.

This food poisoning bout cost me an entire day and two nights of my trip – think refusing to move from my hotel bed other then to the washroom.  And if it wasn’t a curse I do have my suspicions as to where I might have gotten this treat.   But I can’t be sure, so I would rather be cautious before I start accusing any establishment (rest assured I am confident that it is not from any of the places I have mentioned in this article as the timing doesn’t even come close to matching).

Ivan Ross making a recovery.

Ivan Ross making a recovery.  Photo via Ivan Ross Vrána.

I am finishing this article on my trip home.  I had to catch an early morning flight, so was not able to get back out there and try some other spots … nor was there any real desire to do so at that point.  I have not eaten anything in 24 hours (I have been drinking a lot of fluids) and I am not about to start with Air Canada’s food, even if it is in business class.

Would I do it again – no way – who wants to be holed up in their hotel room for a day when it is sunny and warm outside and all you can think about is how your body is trying to kill you from the inside?  But of course I would come back to San Francisco anytime and go out and explore the great dinning options the city has to offer.  I suppose risk comes with all travel, so no matter where you go you just have to hope like crazy you can avoid mating with your toilet for an extended period of time.

Do you have San Francisco eat advice (preferably of the non-food poisoning variety?) We’d love to hear your tips.

What do you think? Your comments are most welcome.

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