: views from the Hill

Monday, April 10, 2006

[FOOD] Garçon! (at Valencia and 22d) & Adventures in Moving (or Public Transit from Here to There)

1101 Valencia St. SF, CA 94110
(415) 401-8959

"The rain's stopped for a bit," his nibs said. "Let's find someplace to eat out in the Mission or Noe Valley and go out early and roam around an unfamiliar neighborhood before dinner."

Sounded good to me, so we proceeded to spend a significant chunk of time thumbing through restaurant names, checking to see who was open on Sundays, what did they serve, were they located in a roamable neighborhood. ...

We finally settled on Garçon! at the corner of 22d and Valencia and booked a 7 p.m. seating with Open Table.

Alas, all good plans and all that. The rains started up again. The pinpoint Doppler radar at CBS showed that a wave of showers was headed through and would then taper off. We waited another thirty minutes for the showers to let up, then headed down to the F-Line. ... and just missed a trolley.

Well, another one would be by in ten minutes or so, but ...

... but it wasn't.

Four jampacked-full F-line trolleys headed the other way, toward Fisherman's Wharf, before the next F-line trolley headed our way. That trolley was too full to stop. We waited some more. By now we were standing under the roof of the stop, avoiding the drizzle. Five or so other people had joined us. Another F-line headed to the Castro showed up. It too was packed. The driver took pity on us, though. He opened the back door for us to get on because there was no way we could get on through the front. We'd pay our fare on the next leg.

We got off at Market to wait for the 14 out Mission. Every eight or nine minutes, the schedule said. Quite a while later (far, far longer than nine minutes), a reticulated 14 arrived and let us on. There was one other rider on the bus.

The bus turned the corner onto Steuart and stopped outside the Quiznos. The driver needed a bathroom break and flushed us off the bus. A while later, duty done, she got back on, let us back in and headed out. There were now all of five people on this huge bus. What's up with that?

By the time we left downtown and headed out Mission, the bus was packed full. The passengers packed in more and more densely as new passengers piled on at each stop.

A nodding-off girl hanging onto a strap in front of me took out her cellphone.
"Are you holding?"
"I said, 'Are you holding?'"
"Look, I'm leaving for Southern California tomorrow morning. I only need enough to tide me over tomorrow morning until I leave."
"How much for ..."
"You're expecting some, though, right?"
"It's going to be delivered soon, right?"
"Look, can I come by the house?"
"OK. I'll stop off at Walgreen's and pick up a rig and then come over. 0-5-4-9, right?"

I thought to myself, how dumb is that. If I were looking to knock over someone picking up drugs, I'd follow this girl off, wait while she went to Walgreen's, wait while she stopped by the house, then mug her as she came out.


She sure didn't need any drugs at this moment in time. What was she scoring for? Oh, tomorrow morning. Maybe she was just planning ahead for the morning. She didn't look like her brain was in any shape to plan. Her eyes glazed over and she nodded off, then woke up in time to get off at at 16th and Mission, across from the Walgreen's.

By now, our plans to poke our noses around the neighborhood were moot. What should've been a half-hour trip had taken forever. The bus was far more crowded than I'm comfortable with. I was glad we'd got on when it was relatively empty and I could find a seat.

The crowd of people was getting to me. We shoved (literally!) our way off the 14 a stop early, getting off at 21st. We walked down Mission to 22d, hung a right and walked a couple blocks up to Valencia, arriving ten minutes before our reservation. There was one other couple in the place, a guy and a woman, who were well into their meal. They had two bottles of wine on the table, two sets of glasses, and were discussing their food in low voices.

We settled down at our places. The restaurant is relatively small, with a lounge between the restaurant/bar and the kitchen. A singleton bathroom is off the lounge on your left, just before you get to the kitchen.

The main room is painted beige and shades of brown. Windows look out on Valencia and 22d. We could see what used to be an old drugstore with original signage on the other side of 22d.

The tables have paper covers. The ambiance is low-key. The staff is thin and speaketh with French accents. The bus staff is excellent.

We were told up front that there was no ahi tuna appetizer. The soup of the day was asparagus with a touch of cream. After much deliberation, we ordered and his nibs chose a cabernet franc from the wine menu.

His nibs had the French Onion Soup gratinee, which Bauer praised yesterday as the best in town. I had the Salmon Tart, a thin crust cracker base with smoked salmon and capers, crème fraiche and red onions on top. The tart came with a green frissee salad with a touch of Dijon vinaigrette. The tart had a touch of Dijon dressing beneath the salmon and capers as well. We were both pleased with our choices.

For a main dish, his nibs had the Papillotte of Sole, cooked with black olives, peppers, tomatoes, basil. A large leaf of basil topped the fish during cooking. The kitchen crowned the sole with a blop (as his nibs put it) of crème fraiche after they opened the parchment.

I had the Duck Confit with Pommes Sarladaises, bacon and mushrooms. The dish was settled on a bed of frissee. The duck was a bit dry, but there was enough juice to offset that problem. The skin was crackly, just like I like it. The mushrooms were definitely Ym. The bacon added a touch too much salt to the dish. I don't know how the confit would have fared without the added bacon taste, though, or I'd suggest just leaving the bacon out. The best duck confit I ever had was in an inn in the Dordogne. This dish, albeit tasty, was nowhere near knocking that dish off its pedestal.

Dessert was the Floating Island with a small pour of their recommended accompanying dessert wine, one order of dessert/wine shared. His nibs had most of the Floating Island. I had most of the dessert wine. The Floating Island was fab. The meringue was solid but not too so. The creme anglaise was delightful. Meringue. Creme anglaise. Tasty. What's not to like? I can make Ile Flottante myself, but it's so much nicer to have someone else go to the bother, and I couldn't've made it any better. The dessert wine tasted better with the dessert than on its own. I am partial to Bonny Doon's Vin de Glacière and wish it had been a choice.

By the time we were ready to leave, the restaurant had pretty much filled up. Not bad for a Sunday night. I got up to use the bathroom before we trekked home and moved the small table so I could squeeze out, knocking my water glass, which hit the floor with a splatter and crash. The staff, which seemed used to people knocking things about as they squeezed past the tables, were there in a jiffy. The mess was cleared by the time I arrived back to the table.

We walked the two blocks back to Mission and waited a bit for the 14-bus. Got off near Steuart and Market. Looked all the way up Market but couldn't see an F-line coming, so we walked the mile-plus or so up the Embarcadero to Levi's Plaza and Filbert and on home. Glad I was we'd decided to walk, because the F-line never came.

If you've got the time, public transit in San Francisco works like a charm. You never have far to walk. You can usually get anywhere you want to go directly or with one transfer. Sometimes, though, the connections don't synch, or the ride doesn't show up when it's supposed to. Take your time. Count on delays. My ride to jury duty last Thursday took minimal time. The ride to dinner yesterday took far, far too long.

If you don't have the time? Well, you can always pay $20 (one-way) -- our estimate of what a taxi ride to 22d and Valencia would've cost us -- for a taxi instead of the $1.50 public transit will set you back.

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