by Nancy Sweet, director, LLCC culinary programs and operations
My husband and I recently had a whirlwind three-day trip to San Francisco, which is one of my favorite places to visit in the United States. It was my fourth time visiting there, but I realized it had been almost eight years since my last trip. In that time, I feel the level of good food has increased exponentially!
Of course, San Francisco has always been known to have wonderful food, from authentic dim sum in China Town to handmade cannolis in North Beach to wonderful authentic Mexican food in the Mission District. However, now it seems like there is no end to the abundance of good, real food there, from a tiny bakery to hyper-regional farm-to-table to authentic Northern Italian. The choices are endless, making it hard to decide.
However, after some researching and picking a few travel-loving friends’ brains, we finally settled on several restaurants. For some, reservations a month in advance was critical; for others, we decided to chance it and just try our luck at bar seats. Nonetheless, we were beyond happy with our choices.
Our first evening was spent at SPQR. According to their website, SPQR is acronym for Senatus Populusque Romanus which translates to “The People and Senate of Rome” and was the emblem of the Roman Empire. SPQR is a Northern Italy-influenced restaurant led by Chef Matthew Accarrino, a Food & Wine “Best New Chef” in 2014 and a proud recipient of a Michelin star. We opted for a casual seat at the bar in the small restaurant in Lower Pacific Heights. Wonderful food and service, we thoroughly enjoyed the handmade pasta and delicious wine. Below is a recipe of Chef Accarrino’s.
Creamy Pasta with Wild Mushrooms
*1/2 pound of wild mushrooms, such as oyster or chanterelles, sliced ¼ inch thick
*2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
*salt and pepper to taste
*6 large eggs
*1 pound pappardelle
*1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved and sliced 1/8 inch thick
*1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
*1/4 cup heavy cream
*3 tablespoons unsalted butter
*1 ½ cups baby spinach
*freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a nonstick baking sheet, toss the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium pot of boiling salted water, cook the eggs for 5 minutes. Drain the eggs and cool under cold running water. In another pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente; drain well.
In a medium skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the leek and cook over moderate heat until translucent, 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the mascarpone and cream, then stir in the butter. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
Add the roasted mushrooms, cooked pasta and spinach to the skillet and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and mound the pasta into shallow bowls. Peel and halve the eggs, adding one to each bowl. Sprinkle the pasta with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and serve immediately.
Night two we found ourselves at Cala. Chef Gabriela Camara opened Cala in San Francisco in 2015, 17 years after opening her first restaurant in Mexico City. Says Chef Camara, “How do you cook Mexican food for people who think they already know it? In San Francisco we aren’t serving what people think they know. Our focus is on seafood and vegetables, and the cooking is more refined and delicate.”
We enjoyed dishes put together in very inventive ways, such as poached mussels on toast with lime and cured egg yolk and smoked trout tostadas. Below is a recipe for Shrimp Veracruz, a dish influenced heavily by Mexico’s east coast but found all throughout Mexico.
Shrimp a la Veracruzana
*3 tablespoons olive oil
*2 cups yellow onions, diced
*2 garlic cloves, minced
*3 jalapenos, halved lengthwise
*2 cups tomatoes, diced
*2 tablespoons capers, roughly chopped
*1/4 cup green olive, roughly chopped
*2 bay leaves
*1 teaspoon dried oregano
*3/4 pound medium shrimp, peeled
*salt to taste
*fresh cilantro, to taste
Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Once hot, sauté onions, garlic and jalapenos until onions are translucent but not coloring, about 7 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, capers, olives, aby leaves and oregano. Simmer until tomatoes reduce by half, 15-20 minutes. Sauce should streak pan’s bottom. If sauce looks too dry, add a few splashes of water to stretch sauce.
Add shrimp and cook until it just curls and turns opaque, 2-4 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Serve with cooked white rice and black beans and garnish with cilantro.
On our last night we went to the San Francisco institution of Zuni Café, open since 1979. Zuni’s longtime chef Judy Rodgers was instrumental in winning several coveted James Beard awards including Cookbook of the Year, Outstanding Restaurant of the year in the country, and Outstanding Chef. Though Judy passed away in 2013, her commitment to using local, seasonal ingredients prepared meticulously still stays with Zuni Café.
Zuni Café Caesar Salad
*2 salt-packed anchovies, rinsed, dried, and chopped
*1/2 tablespoon (generous) minced garlic
*1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
*2/3 cup olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
*salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
*1/4 pound chewy French or Italian bread, cut into ¾ inch cubes
*2 eggs, well beaten
*juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
*2 ounce fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
*2 hearts of romaine lettuce, cored, leaves left whole, chilled
Preheat the oven to 300°.
Combine half of the anchovies and garlic in a bowl. Add the vinegar, the 2/3 cup olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Let stand for 20 minutes.
Toss the bread cubes with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread on a cookie sheet and bake until golden, about 10 minutes.
At serving time, slowly whisk the oil mixture into the eggs to form an emulsion. Add the remaining anchovies and garlic, the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the cheese. Thoroughly toss the lettuce leaves with the dressing, being careful not to bruise them. Taste for salt and add, if necessary.
Divide the salad among chilled serving plates. Add the croutons, dust with more freshly ground pepper and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts/ .