Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's a Small Small World - 2010 San Francisco & Napa Trip Day 2 Part II

Continued from...

(Quickly's in San Francisco)
After the morning's pilgrimage to Golden Gate Fortune Cookies, we headed over to the other side of town to Swan Oyster Depot. It was a long hike, combined with the hills of San Francisco, my friend was having a little trouble pushing through. There were small restaurants everywhere and I wanted to walk into every one of them just to give it a try. But I stayed my course, pushing pass even familiar joints like Quickly's and their seductive boba milk tea, and finally made it to Swan Oyster Depot.

(Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco)
(Swan Oyster Depot - Seafood Window)
(Swan Oyster Depot Counter Seating Only)
My original intention was to get one bowl of clam chowder and then head off to Tu Lan. But there was a line in front of Swan Oyster. It wasn't a long line; there were only around ten people ahead of me. But the joint was literally a hole in the wall. There were only counter seating and the whole place accommodated around twenty seated customers at a time. Needless to say a short line of around ten people turned into nearly a forty minutes wait. My friend whose allergy was acting up decided she wasn't going to eat any seafood. Since the line was so long, she went off on her own to find something else to eat.

(Swan Oyster Depot - Bumping Into Friends)
It turned out to be a very small world. For forty minutes, I was standing behind a couple one of whom turned out to be an old college friend of mine: Mieko. It turned out that she was in town visiting relatives and this was their must-do restaurant. Upon their recommendation, I decided to order more than just the clam chowder and give the other seafood a try. Also this happened to be the only photo I took of myself during this whole trip.

(Swan Oyster Depot - Clam Chowder)
I am a big, no, colossal fan of clam chowder. I have had my fair share of clam chowder from all sorts of places I have traveled to. During my past visits to San Francisco, I had been suckered to the tourist traps of Fisherman warf. This time I was expecting something amazing. My reaction to Swan Oyster Depot's clam chowder was mixed. I was slightly prepared for this since I read a few reviews warning about the thickness of the chowder. It really isn't a chowder per se; it is far too liquidy to be be called such. It was more like a clam soup with similar ingredients as a clam chowder without the thickness. In fact it is closer to a Manhattan clam chowder in texture than a New England clam chowder. I personally prefer New England clam chowder, but to each his own. Let's just say this would never work inside a bread bowl.

The thickness aside, the soup was definitely not your cut-of-the-line clam chowder. Progresso's and Campbells' got nothing on this soup. The freshness of the clams came through the soup at an instant. Unlike most clam chowder where I would have to look for the clam and to very carefully find the clam flavor in the chowder, this one hits me in the face full force. There was no guessing that this was made with real clams. The rest of the ingredients almost became insignificant as they simply were there to fill up the texture of the rest of the soup.

(Swan Oyster Depot - Seafood Cocktail)
Every waiter at Swan Oyster were also food preps; they personally plated all the foods in full view of the customers. My friend and her husband ordered their usual, the seafood salad. The portions were definitely generous and it looked very fresh. But I wanted the dish that would allow me to try as many different things in the restaurant as possible, and not end up with a giant hole in my wallet. The combination cocktail did the job. It had a raw oyster, crab meat, a large shrimp and small shrimps inside the cocktail glass and cost just shy of ten dollars. This was the perfect way to sample a chunk of what Swan Oyster Depot had to offer.

I had very high standard for raw oysters, extremely high, despite only having ate my first one on a half shell one year ago; that was at Galveston in Texas. I didn't count having raw oyster shots since the alcohol drowns out a lot of the normal issues associated with raw oysters. I had been plagued all my life with stories from my parents about how awful raw oysters are, and how they had to spit it out when they were treated to free oyster at a rich friend's banquet many years ago. But when I ate the raw oysters at Galveston, it was absolutely divine. It was as if I ate a bubble of fresh water that bursted with flavors inside my mouth. Ever since, no other oyster had even come close. Swan Oyster Depot was as close as I had gotten since then. It had a burst of freshness upon entering my mouth, but there was still a hint of the nasty aftertaste that most raw oysters had when it's not at its freshest. I think the oysters at Swan Oyster Depot, or at least the one I had, was just past its freshness by perhaps a day or so. Sadly to say I would most likely never order that from Swan Oyster Depot again; let's just say my stomach cast the decisive vote later that afternoon.

However the rest of the cocktail was good. The crab meat and shrimps were all fresh. The cocktail sauce didn't completely over power the seafood, allowing the original flavors of the meat to still come through. This was definitely a higher grade than some of the trash served on the streets of Fisherman warf. But it also wasn't the best seafood I ever had. I doubt I would want to wait for forty-five minutes to have Swan Oyster again, but it may be something to grab to-go if I happened to be in the area and wanted a nice quick bite of some fresh seafood; all except for the oysters.

(Ike's at Lime - Menage A Trois)
I was prepped for Ike's after Swan Oyster Depot. I kept myself in check most of the day and made certain I didn't over eat. I managed to hike with my friend from our hotel all the way down market street to Ike's in the Castro district; it took a toll on my friend. I was ready to chomp down on a sandwich at Ike's. But little did I know there's an insanely long wait for it. Upon arrival, I approached the cashier by the door to place an order. Apparently I couldn't actually order until I first placed my name inside Lime Lounge on the "list." I got my name placed and it was over twenty minutes before I was able to place my actual order.

I asked the cashier what was the one sandwich I must have at Ike's since this is most likely the only time I would ever get to eat here. I had a feeling it was either going to be the Menage A Trois as so many have suggested on yelp or the Superman as my friend suggested. The cashier did recommend the Menage A Trois and that is exactly what I ordered. I asked him approximately how long it would take for my order to be ready. He told me it would be around forty-five minutes before I would be able to get it. I was free to roam about and return later. Apparently experienced customers knew that they could place an order on the phone bypassing the twenty minutes wait to place an order and then simply arrive to pick up their orders later. I found this extremely annoying for someone like me who had to wait nearly half an hour to place my order because I was dumb enough to actually stop by. This made absolutely no sense to me and basically turned me off from ever wanting to step foot back into Ike's.

Nevertheless knowing I had forty-five minutes to kill, and my friend was exhausted from the walk, I walked back to the hotel alone to pick up the car and return to Ike's to pick up the sandwich so that I could take it with me to Napa. It took slightly over half an hour for me to get back to my hotel and another fifteen minutes to get my car out and back over to Ike's. To my surprise my sandwich was still not ready. It took another five minutes or so for my order to finally come out of the back kitchen. I had never waited an hour and fifteen minutes for one single sandwich in my life. This better be the best sandwich I had ever tasted.

The Menage A Trios was good, but absolutely not worth the hour and fifteen minutes wait. I had a small portion of my sandwich as soon as I got it in my hands to make sure I got to try it at its freshest. I knew it was a sweet sandwich as many yelpers have reviewed it to be. It wasn't the sweetness that actually bothered me though, it was the fact that it tasted more like an orgy rather than a menage a trois. All the flavors were in a big giant jumble with one another and nothing was distinct from one another. Sure it was bursting like an orgy of flavors, but it was a mess. The sandwich was a mess. The honey, honey mustard and the BBQ sauce all fused into one sweet sauce that buried the fused flavors of the pepper jack, swiss and smoked gouda cheese as well as the chicken. Though it was good, it certain wasn't the best sandwich I ever had. In fact the Wisconsin Sourdough burger I got at Gott's Roadside the next day in St. Helena was far superior to Ike's messy orgy of a sandwich. I'll be talking about that one soon.

So the question is would I order the menage a trois again? The short answer is no. It was a good sandwich and if it didn't have a one hour and fifteen minute wait and preferential treatment for phone orders to deal with, I wouldn't mind having it ever now and then. I think if I ever returned to San Francisco and whomever I'm with absolutely wanted to try this place, I would still be willing to place a phone order and pick it up when it's ready. But since I'm so turned off by their unfair policy towards newcomers, I am not inclined to revisit this place by myself. It wasn't that good.

(Painted Ladies in San Francisco)

Ike's at Lime was my final stop in San Francisco and for the night. We were now ready to head off to Gaia Hotel and Spa Resort in Napa via the Golden Gate route. It was a beautiful day and I had a fantastic adventure in San Francisco. I was now ready for a change of scenery, a relaxed pace, and of course, some amazing wine.

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