On our second day in San Francisco, we slept in. I know, I know…things to do and see, but hey, we like our sleep and taking it easy on vacation. We decided to take the bus (using our awesome Muni passes, again) to the Italian village area for a San Francisco specialty called cioppino. Until recently, I was unaware of this tasty dish that’s a kind of seafood stew.
We used yelp.com to find almost all of the restaurants we visited on this trip. and this place was rated the best for cioppino. It’s a small, tiny restaurant with a few tables outside. Since the weather was lovely, we chose to eat outside. We ordered a bowl of clam chowder and one serving of cioppino. I heard via a yelp review that it’s a HUGE portion, so we figured we’d share it. I like seafood, but clams, mussels and oysters are on the low end of the spectrum for me. Usually I find that the clams are overcooked and tough, especially in chowder, so I wasn’t expecting it to be spectacular. Sometimes chowder is too thick and gluey, too. This one, however, was perfect. The clams were tender and flavorful and just the right size. (I don’t care for unchopped clams…they remind me of chewing gum…definitely not appetizing!)
Like a lot of people, I mistakenly assumed cioppino was an Italian dish because of the name, but it actually was created in the North Beach area. It’s called cioppino (chi-pino) because a fishermen would make lunch on the docks and call down to the other boats to see if they wanted to “chip in” some of their daily catch. They they would all share the stew. Ok, that’s my very simple explanation and I think it’s fairly accurate.
After the chowder came the cioppino. It was chock full of crab, bay shrimp and scallops, large shrimp, snapper, clams, calamari and mussels (which I did not eat) all in a tomato/garlic/seafood stock. Ohh my gosh it was SOOO good. I think this was the best new food thing I’ve tasted in a long, long time. I wanted to drink the broth or at least lick the bowl when I was done. I’m pretty stingy with salt when I cook beacause I like to let people do their own seasoning and I prefer less salty food. The cioppino was salty, but it wasn’t overly salty (I did drink 6 glasses of water, tho, which made for an interesting walk through Chinatown!)
The chef came out a few times to talk to us, and we saw lots of local people stop by to talk to the owner who was sitting at a table next to us. Overall, we’d recommend this place to anyone. It’s relatively close to Union Square, we took a bus ride that was pretty quick. The restaurant is Sotto Mare and you can find the menu here.
After a scrumptious lunch we walked off some of the food and headed towards Chinatown the fortune cookie factory that was on our “to do” list. Chinatown was really busy and crowded, but full of life and energy. There were a ton of little grocery shops selling vegetable and other items like hats, flipflops and cases of ginko biloba. We had a few dimsum places ready to try, but were so full from lunch that we didn’t stop. We’re hoping to do that this week before we leave.
We keep walking a few blocks to find the Fortune Cookie Factory where they make 20,000 fortune cookies a day. By hand. Impressive, right? Our directions took us down a main street and then said to turn down an alley and look for the factory. So we did. We walked up and down the alley two times. We could smell the cookies, but couldn’t see them. Finally on the third trip up the alley, we found the factory. Or in reality, the small store front, er excuse me, the small alley front with three Chinese ladies sitting on folding chairs in front of hot irons folding fortune cookies. One lady, the one closest to the door was smiling and chatting, the other two were not.
I loved the manager guy, he was so nice. He gave out warm cookies (unfolded) to everyone who came in and if you bought something you got another handful to take on the road. After a handshake. He wouldn’t hand over your merchandise or the free cookies until you shook his hand.
Here are some random Chinatown pictures…archictecture, Peking Duck and some interesting mechandise. We went into a store selling shark fin for soup, but we weren’t able to photograph them. Sorry!
It’s late and I am going to leave you with a video clip of the amazing fortune cookie factory. Have no fear, I did purchase cookies to bring home. Some have mystery fortunes. Should be interesting! I promise I’ll get to our Alcatraz tour and Sonoma/Napa Valley day trip ASAP, too. I have a celebrity chef sighting to discuss!