Eight San Francisco Drinks to Imbibe This Weekend

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Lou Bustamante
The three-day weekend: That's enough time to drive out to the Sonora and find God among the cacti! Or shred the three boxes of 10-year-old phone bills you've been meaning to throw away! Or send e-mails to every single one of your relatives you've been meaning to write to!

Here's a more realistic project to undertake: Track down our eight favorite local drinks from the 2011 SFoodie's 92. It's 100 percent achievable -- a few cocktails, a few beers, with coffee and chocolate drinks in between. Time it right and you won't stumble into work on Tuesday, sweating bourbon. Unless you were already planning to.

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The 10 Best Spicy Dishes in San Francisco

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Kevin Henderson
You'll need an extra bottle of water to eat this.
Lemon-juice cleanses and detox teas, phthah. Some of us clear the system with the purging fire of chiles -- the scouring heat that ignites the lips, the jagged pain that descends from sinuses to diaphragm, the beads of sweat that form on swaths of skin we never knew had sweat glands.

San Francisco does not lack for sweat lodges of the gastronomic kind. The peppers that first made their way east on Portuguese and Spanish trading ships have circumnavigated the globe, returning to the city in the form of Korean stews, Thai salads, and North African condiments. After the jump, here are 10 of the best dishes that set multiple parts of our bodies aflame in 2011. A round of Tums for the house!

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The 10 Sweetest Things in San Francisco

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Albert Law/porkbellystudio
​San Francisco may be known as the capital of vegetable-loving, sustainability-obsessed dining, but that doesn't mean this town doesn't eat enough sugar to bake a scale model of AT&T Park out of red velvet cake.

Today, we've decided to recap 10 of the sweets that sent us reeling. What with the pastry explosion that's covered this town in butter and caramel, not to mention the longtimers who been getting us high for years, it's been a good year for desserts. Or even desserts that mask themselves as breakfast.

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No. 1: Barbecue Pork Bun from Cafe Bakery and Restaurant

Categories: SFoodie's 92
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Jonathan Kauffman
Cafe Bakery's baked BBQ pork bun, $1.
SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.

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Baked barbecue pork buns show up at office parties, softball games, and dim sum restaurants all over town. Some of us pick them up as quick breakfast or a three o'clock snack. Some of us make a habit of bringing Mom a box from her favorite bakery, rushed across town so they arrive still warm. Some of us introduce them to visiting cousins from home ― they're a surefire hit with Midwesterners, not to mention a badge of our own worldliness.

Is there anyone in San Francisco ― well, anyone who eats pork ― who doesn't like baked char siu bao? They're as universally pleasing as pizza and spaghetti, as embedded into the food scene as organic baby lettuces. Cantonese baked buns can be found in almost every major city in the country, but few American cities boast quite so many Chinese bakeries in neighborhoods quite so far apart as Portola, Parkside, and Chinatown.

And of all the baked char siu bao we've eaten in Portola, Parkside, and Chinatown, the most iconic we've tried come from a dim, generically named bakery in the Sunset. Cue-ball sized, Cafe Bakery's buns are not as fragile as some of the blowsy puffballs some bakeries sell. We can fist one without crumpling it: The glossy, evenly browned shell will give, then bounce back. Bite through, though, and we find the bun is neither tough nor too thick. Chopped pork immediately spills out ― meaty, tender, none too syrupy but maximally rich. Are char siu bao breakfast or dessert, a meal or a snack? As with any universally loved food, the answer is, of course: all of the above.

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No. 2: Yuba from Hodo Soy Beanery

Categories: SFoodie's 92
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Hodo Soy Beanery
Yuba sheets drying at Hodo's Oakland production facility.
SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.

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Quick, name three of the Bay Area's iconic foods: local Dungeness, naturally; levain raised by ambient yeasts, to be sure; but tofu skins? No way.

Yes way. Oakland-based Hodo Soy Beanery has been making the yellowed-ivory sheets ever since company founder Minh Tsai noted the lack of fresh yuba on this side of the Pacific. Crafting yuba is an expensive and time-consuming process, increasingly rare even in Asia, where it remains a product of mom and pop tofu makers (though dried tofu skins, which have a completely different texture from fresh yuba, does make it to the export market). Actually, says Tsai, yuba isn't tofu skin at all, but the dried solids that rise to the surface of soy milk, like the plug of solid cream that coalesces at the neck of that bottle of Straus non-homogenized milk.

That explains yuba's buttery flavor and gently elastic texture, more like mozzarella di bufala than tofu. That explains yuba's popularity among a handful of local chefs: Coi's Daniel Patterson, Phil West of Range, and Alex Ong, who's been adding strips of yuba to pea-shoot dumplings on Betelnut's spring menu, an expression of local flavor every bit as authentic as cioppino. More »

No. 3: Sichuan Pickles at Mission Chinese Food

Categories: SFoodie's 92
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Albert Law/porkbellystudio
Mission Chinese Food's mixed pickles, $3.
SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.

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The longer Danny Bowien and Anthony Myint's restaurant sticks around, the farther afield it spins, growing wilder and more elaborate with each new menu. The original menu of tweaked Chinese classics like cumin lamb belly and Mongolian beef cheeks has been augmented with dumplings stuffed with oil-poached fish, a chilled custard with cured trout roe and and sea urchin, and rice porridge with oxtail and Dungeness crab. Yet every time SFoodie sends someone to the restaurant, the first thing we hear back is, "Holy shit! Didja try the pickles?"

Oh, yes. The $3 Sichuan pickle bowl seems to change a little each time we go back, but it's always the way we jump-start the meal. There are the long beans, fermented in shoyu, pulsing with salt and umami, and the dense, almost sweet crunch of the cucumber coins, which are salted and left in the refrigerator until their sourness blooms. From the bottom of the bowl, wallowing in chile oil, toasted chiles, and Sichuan peppercorn oil, are the swaths of Napa cabbage. They've been left to ferment for a few days, the pickling revved up with salt and a little mother brine from the last batch. Taste them on day three, and the cabbage has a mellow, fruity tang; by day five it becomes prickly and effervescent.

Because fiery, buzzy, and acidic aren't quite enough, the cooks shower the pickles in cilantro, green onions, toasted peanuts, and sesame seeds. Starting the meal off with MCF's Sichuan pickles is like watching the opening credits cut to a 20-vehicle car chase, complete with FBI helicopters, yakuza toughs, a shirtless Ryan Reynolds, and a station wagon filled with puppies. You squinch down in the seat, shove your phone in your pocket, and forget about going out for popcorn.

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No. 4: Beef Stew from Il Cane Rosso

Categories: SFoodie's 92
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John Birdsall
Marin Sun Farms beef and vegetable stew, $12.50.
SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.

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What's known around here as Cal cuisine, the meridional French/pan-Italian hybrid that emerged in the 1980s as Northern California's regional style, has taken its hits, and not just from David Chang. All those confit duck legs, ratatouilles, and short-rib braises over soft polenta ― cooked without conviction they're as dreary and formulaic as the elaborately garnished plates of boeuf bourguignonne and duck a'lorange they replaced, back when sun-dried tomatoes were as rare as Umbrian truffles.

Since launching in 2009, Il Cane Rosso has revived our respect for bistro cooking. Under Lauren Kiino, the cooks here wring serious depths of flavor from the kind of luxe local ingredients that weave through earnest menus all over town ― greens form County Line Farm, meats from Marin Sun Farms. Various forms of braised beef, which often appear as the piatto del giorno on the daily-changing menu, are among our favorite things to eat here. The beef sugo over polenta is good enough to stick in your memory as the archetype for long-cooked meat, all succulent fibers, syrupy juices, and root-vegetable sweetness. The flavor of Cane Rosso's Marin Sun Farms beef and vegetable stew is built around the tannins in roasted tomato, its olive oil-glossed surface breached by sprigs of cilantro and crisp, soothing stalks of agretti, reviving on a couple of levels.

Il Cane Rosso: One Ferry Building (at Embarcadero), 391-7599.

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No. 5: Mushroom Soufflé at Cafe Jacqueline

Categories: SFoodie's 92
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justafoodie/Foodspotting
The mushroom souffle at Cafe Jacqueline, $28.
SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.

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The reason that Cafe Jacqueline still shows up in most-romantic-restaurant lists isn't the fact that Jacqueline Margulis makes each of the savory and sweet soufflés on her short menu for two people. It's that diners are there for the evening, spending a few hours splitting a bottle of wine and waiting for their soufflés to be made to order, the conversation becoming as intimate as their familiarity with the cafe's weathered wood floorboards and pale blue-green walls. It's no surprise that a couple of plaques above the tables commemorate several wedding proposals and one "handshake of monogamy."

Margulis has operated her North Beach restaurant since 1979, and while she's the same age as the grayer-haired Supreme Court justices, her technique is just as sure as ever. With its refusal to compromise and its single-minded focus, Cafe Jacqueline is as suited to the indie era as it was to the glossy-eyed Francophilia of the 1970s.

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No. 6: Atomica Pizza at Gialina

Categories: SFoodie's 92
Albert Law/porkbellystudio
The Atomica from Gialina, $15.
SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.

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No one makes a pizza crust like Sharon Ardiana. Glossy and golden, the rolling swell of the lip barely tamed by the pizzaiolo, the crust practically hovers above the plate. You lift it and up it floats, far lighter than you're accustomed to; every bite resounds with a hollow crack. The center of the crust is thin enough to recede behind of the flavor of the toppings. But it's hardly invisible ― sometimes the wheat comes through, other times a hint of smoke and char from the oven.

And while Ardiana's seasonal pies ― in the spring, say, finely chopped asparagus with Meyer lemon and a farm-cooked egg ― are always the ones your eye is drawn to first, the Atomica has justly earned a permanent spot. It's a classic pie, with a proper tomato sauce and meaty slices of portobello held in place by a parsley-flecked cap of browned mozzarella. Slivers of red onions lurk under there, too, sending out little zaps when you crunch into them, a warning that the slower-flaring heat of chiles is about to hit.

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No. 7: Aunt Malai's Lao Sausage Sandwich at Pal's Takeaway

Categories: SFoodie's 92
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Jonathan Kauffman
One of the variations of Aunt Malai's Lao sausage sandwich, $8.25, at Pal's Takeaway.
SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.

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Jeff Mason layers a sandwich the way a curator hangs a gallery, with an eye for the vivid, the finely rendered, or the quietly spectacular. Mason's daily shortlist at Pal's Takeaway often incorporates ingredients you pretty much can't find anywhere else ― quite a feat in a city with as intensively cultivated a food landscape as San Francisco's: breads from semi-underground bakers Josey Baker, Josh Capone (before he switched coasts), and the Wise Sons Deli boys, smoked meats from Ryan Ostler. And Lao sausage from the sisters who run Vientian Café in East Oakland.

Mason credits one of the sisters in his Aunt Malai's Lao sausage sandwich, which shows up on the Pal's menu a couple of times a month, often with pickled cucumber, cilantro, and soy-yuzu mayonnaise in an Acme rustic deli roll. The sausage is tenderer than you expect it to be: fat-veined pork belly ground with a bit of the liver, maybe, with lemongrass, lime leaves, Thai chiles ― aromatic, slightly numbing. It yields a sandwich as satisfying as any banh mi in town, but original enough to discourage comparisons. It's original.

Pal's Takeaway: 2751 24th St. (at Hampshire), inside Tony's Market, 203-4911. More »

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