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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

San Francisco Food Tour: The Gastro at 18th St and Guerrero

OMGCS (Oh My Grilled Cheese Sandwich). There it was like a bright and shiny beacon promising warm, cheesy, deliciousness on a dreary, almost rainy San Francisco day. Parked just on the outskirts of Dolores Park it was Toasty Melts, I had just stumbled upon the Grilled Cheese Sandwich food truck I'd been craving to hunt down ever since Carl Mindling and I first hit the streets of SF in search of our first food adventure five months ago!


LOL I think the sign was supposed to say Cheddar, Smoked Gouda and Jack.


But let me start at the beginning. You may recall that a mere two weeks ago I took part in the Food Blogger Bake Sale to benefit Share Our Strength. It was hosted at 18 Reasons in San Francisco's Mission District.

I had to drop off my baked goods at 10:00 AM but my one hour volunteer shift didn't begin until 4:00 PM. What's a girl to do in the big city for six hours?

For starters I meandered around the bake sale for a bit then went by to visit a sick friend and drop off some cookies I'd baked for her and her caretakers. It was noon when I headed back which would leave me four hours to fill. Hmmm what to do, what to do?

Here's how clueless I can be. I knew about the sale for months but it wasn't until the night before that I went on Google Maps to see where 18 Reasons was located. I just about fell over. Turns out it's kitty corner to one of the most well known food centric districts in all of San Francisco: The 18th Street corridor (affectionately dubbed "The Gastro" by locals) which, as far as I can tell, spans 18th Street between Dolores and Guerrero.


A. The FOOD TRUCKS WERE THERE! - B. Bi-Rite (Ice) Creamery - C. Bi-Rite Market  - D. PIzzeria Delfina & Delfina Restaurant - E. Tartine Bakery & Cafe

I'll admit I was torn. WIth four hours to kill there was no way I wasn't going to have an impromptu food tour! Sadly my fun loving foodie friend Carl Mindling wasn't able to join me. Dare I have a food adventure without him? I felt bad. I felt guilty. I felt regretful. But I had no choice. What was I going to do? Sit on a stoop and read a book with all of that fantastic food just around the corner? You understand my dilemma right?


I put out an open call on Facebook and my friend Gabriela Reid of Colorful Events said she'd love to join me! Yay. We met up at 18 Reasons and walked down to Dolores Street to begin our food adventure.


At Toasty Melts we split a 3 Cheese Sandwich ($4.00). It was really good. We both loved it. The bread had just enough butter in it and the cheese was so flavorful.


Funny, I didn't realize until I looked at the pictures after I got home that not all of the cheese was melted. I'm not sure if that's a signature approach or it was just by chance that you could see all of the shards of grated cheese. Either way it didn't effect the flavor or texture of the sandwich. It was really good and had me craving another before we were done with the first. But I resisted because we had a lot of food left to sample.


Along with Toasty Melts, Liba Falafel was there. You may recall Carl and I tried Liba's falafels back in January when we kicked off our first monthly food adventure.


Gabriela and I each ordered a small falafel ($5.00). I had great success with the toppings I chose that day: Pickled Onions, Red Cabbage with Black Sesame Seeds and Rosemary Peanuts.


The falafel are made from organic chickpeas and all come served with chimichurri, and tahini. I went light on the toppings because we had so many more stops to make.


Gabriela suggested we try the Hand-Cut Sweet Potato Fries with Cilantro, Garlic & Lime ($2.00), something Carl and I skipped the last time around. They were small shoe-string cut fries and were so tasty I would say the next time I dine at Liba I want to stuff my falafel full of the fries along with the other toppings.


And why are all of these people standing in line under this big ice cream cone?


Because that's the Bi-Rite Creamery! This place is totally famous. As a fan of artisan ice cream, so many people have recommended Bi-Rite to me over the years I can't even tell you how many.


Once inside you immediately see this huge wall of ice cream toppings, syrups and cookies as you wait in line.


The moment of truth, choosing a flavor. Though I knew the Salted Caramel was a sure thing, I wanted to try the most unusual flavor on the menu so I ordered a kids scoop ($2.25) of the Balsamic Strawberry while Gabriela ordered a kids scoop of Roasted Banana ice cream.


While my scoop was a very excellent strawberry ice cream the one thing missing was the flavor of the balsamic vinegar. This disappointed me just a bit. I mean how sad could I be eating a perfect scoop of strawberry ice cream? But I wished the balsamic had been included as a swirling stripe of balsamic reduction.


And there were all kinds of flavors pre-packed and ready to go in a tall freezer right by the checkout register.


Next we headed across the street to the Bi-Rite Market. I was so busy shopping I forgot to take pictures! I purchased a small piece of Cabot, vintage, extra sharp, waxed, cheddar cheese, half a round of The Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam triple cream cheese and a loaf of Italian bread by Acme Bread Company so that I could make grilled cheese sandwiches at home.

We also ran into our colleague Elley Ho who had come to the bakesale to purchase some baked goods but sensed at that moment that she would find me in Bi-Rite Market. And she did! LOL Hilarious!


Our final dining stop was Pizzeria Delfina. I'd been there once before with my friend Andy Mark. In fact that night was my first introduction to dining in the Mission District.

Gabriela Reid
Photo by Nancy Rothstein
On Saturday afternoon Delfina restaurant, to the right above, was closed for lunch but the pizzeria, to the left where everyone is sitting on the sidewalk, was open. Our wait for a table wasn't too long and Gabby and I chatted as we waited.

Gabriela and I do share a common interest in supporting The Womens' Initiative. An organization that helps women become entrepreneurs owning and managing their own businesses. They also offer micro-loans to their members that, along with their guidance, has spelled success for many of their graduates.

After 15 years of working in the hospitality industry, Gabriela enrolled in their program in 2007 and is now the proud owner of Colorful Events, a floral design, wedding coordination and event styling company.

I was really grateful for the opportunity get to know Gabriela better. She is such a warm and authentic person and normally we only get to chat for minutes at a time at networking events.


Our table was ready and Gabriela left ordering up to me so we started by sharing the "Fresh Stretched Mozzarella / Belfiore Burrata" cheese that came with a toasted piece of bread and small side salad ($8.50).


I'd had burrata cheese only once before at A16 restaurant down on Chestnut Street in SF and had wanted it again ever since. It was so good. Light, fresh and creamy in the middle, drizzled with olive oil and dusted with ground black pepper. It's a winner and I'd recommend it if you ever have the chance to dine at Pizzeria Delfina.


But this was our favorite dish we shared that day. The "Peas and Peas w/ guanciale and cipolinne" ($9.00) at Pizzeria Delfina. The peas were fresh garden peas and pea shoots combined with the guaniale bacon and cipolinne onions. It was fresh, bright and so tasty! I am now officially addicted to fresh peas and am amazed at the difference between them and the canned and frozen varieties.

At that point we did go down around the corner to Tartine Bakery and Cafe and I did get a pastry to go but including it as an afterthought doesn't do justice to Tartine so I'll be writing a future post only about the bakery. You can't miss it. Just like Bakesale Betty in Oakland, there was a line out the door the entire day I was there. To say they're popular is an understatement.

The reason we didn't stop and sit at Tartine was because it was 3:55 PM and I had to get back for my shift at the bake sale.

I gave Gabriela a big hug and thanked her for coming and spending her afternoon with me :) It was so much more fun with her than if I'd spent it alone.


But don't forget, I still had my cheese and bread from the Bi-Rite Market.

After attending the Maker Faire and missing out on the Brick Grilled Cheese Sandwiches there, my friend Gordon Garb sent me the recipe.

Normally I make my grilled sandwiches by popping two pieces of Acme bread into my toaster oven and laying the cheese on before they finish toasting. So really they aren't even grilled at all. They're toaster oven melted cheese sandwiches.

But this was the real deal. This time I weighted the sandwich as the bread was simultaneously soaking in the gobs of melted butter, browning and the cheese was melting. And it was out of this world.


I didn't have a brick so instead I tried two different methods to weight my sandwiches. First I used my 10" All Clad Frying Pan, with my enameled, cast iron, Le Creuset French Oven sitting on top of it to create my own improvised panini maker.


The second time I put the Le Creuset French Oven directly on the sandwich. Turns out with the 10" fry pan actually worked better at more evenly distributing the weight.

The recipe said to cut your bread at least 1" to 1.5" thick because it would flatten down. Boy did it!


When I began the Le Creuset pot was above the top edge of the fry pan.


By the time I was done it had sunk deeply into the pan.

This was a slice of white Italian Bread by the Acme Bread Company.

The trick, I learned, is to use 1 Tablespoon of butter per side as you grill the sandwich over medium low heat. First you melt the butter in the pan then use the bread to sop up the butter as evenly as possible across the bread before weighting it.

The bread browned to perfection, the butter was addictive and the cheddar was oh so cheesy! I went to bed that night thinking about making another sandwich the next day.


Obviously not healthy but what a great comfort food on a cold and rainy day. Fortunately we don't have that many rainy days here in San Jose or this could become a serious problem.

If you enjoyed this food adventure post you'll probably like these too:

• A Palo Alto, Epicurean Food Tour

• Our May, East Bay, Berkeley and Oakland Food Adventure

• Meet the Kids on The Harley Farms Goat Dairy Tour

• Beyond Sushi: A South Bay Japanese Food Adventure

• Beyond the Beach: A Santa Cruz Food Adventure

• Gourmet Meat Street Food & Vegetarian Food Truck Favorites

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