In ‘On the Road’, Jack Kerouac, one of the most celebrated writers of the Beatnik Generation, described 1950’s San Francisco as a culinary melting pot where flavours, smells and more importantly cultures came together in the iconic city on the West coast of the United States making it a unique place to live and eat.
Back then North Beach was the ‘hot’ area, where warm Italian foccacia bread was placed on the table with Ciopino, a soup that can be best compared to bouillabaisse from Marseilles, delivered directly from Fisherman’s Wharf that morning in a café along Columbus Avenue.
Food and socializing have always been central to San Francisco life and little has changed in this regard as people from every corner of the world come here to chase the elusive American dream and bring their favourite foods and influences to the most welcoming of cities.
The ‘hot’ spot now is The Mission District, home of the original mission of St Francis of Assisi. It has been a gold rush town, an Irish neighbourhood and most recently a Latino centre in the city. The District boasts the city’s longest running bar, Jack’s Elixir, a modern street mural trail that would rival fair Belfast and one of the most happening food scenes in the country.
A lot of this new growth in restaurants is primarily due to the ‘gentrification’ of the area by tech workers who travel daily to Silicon Valley, to the south, via 4G wireless, super gigabyte friendly, bio-fuel powered coaches that whisk employees from the corner of life giving morning coffee shops to their terminals at Apple, Goggle et al.
We recently sold our house to one such person who was one of five bidding parties all employed by these companies that shape our daily lives on and off line.
Delfina, Commonwealth and Foreign Cinema are restaurants where you book a month in advance for a Wednesday evening supper. Birite Ice Creamery has a line from 12 noon until 10pm for its array of flavours, balsamic strawberry, salted caramel and roasted banana attracting us all like a moth to a flame. German sausage, Neapolitan or Chicago style pizza, Korean BBQ or Tokyo Go-Go sushi, whatever you are craving, you will find it here. Pick a food, any food and there is a chance that it has been fused, re-imagined and offered in an intimate space that is, let’s say, intimate.
Space is at such a premium that two new phenomena have swept the city in the past year, the pop-up restaurant and the mobile food truck. Both ideas were born out of a need for expression, getting a foot in the door of consciousness of this food crazy population and good old-fashioned lack of cash.
The pop-up restaurant has its origin in LA but has been embraced in SF by chefs who see the opportunity to cook, delight and build a following on a shoestring budget. Take over a café that closes at 3pm, rent it for the evening for two weeks to a month, hey voila, Chez Henri until January 1st.
The mobile food trucks have become so popular their ‘circle the wagons’ events can attract up to two thousand customers on a cold August night to Fort Mason in the Marina district. Chairman Boa’s steamed pork belly buns or Curry Up Now’s deconstructed samosa are available for a reasonable price and a slight queue but the flavours on offer are what keep the customers coming back. Tacos are no longer the only delicious street food in this town.
The new Mission restaurant scene is casual, food focused and unpretentious, a lot like the people who gravitate to the neighbourhood. The chefs and their teams are embracing a local farm to table ethos and the customers are looking for a place to have an experience that is real and not frou frou. You don’t have to show off to be good and as long as you are genuine and true to your craft everyone from hipsters to food critics will pass through the door.
Oh how I love San Francisco! In the last five years, I’ve visited six times. I’m from Belfast originally and now live in England. I’m a retail consultant, freelance writer (book “Retail Confidential” (2010) takes a sideways look at shops, shoppers, shopping and service) and a wannabe poet. My San Francisco haiku sequence is here – http://droppedthemoon.blogspot.com/2011/11/8-san-francisco-haikus.html
Good luck in all you do!