Pearl City, on Jackson Street in San Francisco’s Chinatown, is busy and crowded, and John and I are the only non-Asian lunch customers, the only ones struggling with chopsticks and menu. I gratefully accept a fork from the hostess, along with her translations. Pearl City is dim sum territory, where waitresses push wheeled carts from table to table and you choose your dumplings, shrimp paste, chicken chunks, pork-stuffed hom bow, spring rolls and whatever else catches your fancy. For most of it we make guesses, until the hostess steps in and suggests vegetables and seafood on crispy noodles. It’s all delicious. The only thing I don’t like about this place is that shark’s fin soup is on the menu. Sharks are threatened with extinction, and an anti-shark’s fin soup campaign is now underway, with ads on buses running through Chinatown and other areas with large Asian populations.
Next door is the better known Great Eastern Restaurant, where hordes of tourists and locals wait for tables. Service is fast, and they won’t wait long. Great Eastern too serves Hong Kong-style dim sum, and from past experience we know it’s one of the best.
We’re exploring neighborhood restaurants, so now we’re across town with friends at Delfina in the hip and still gritty Mission district. The place is crammed and noisy. Does everyone have to yell to be sure they’re having fun? The din may be outrageous, but the dinner is excellent: tagliatelle with chopped guinea hen sauce, delicate bass, a rich and silky pennacotta dessert. And an unusual wine, Anderson Valley sauvignon blanc, cidery and cloudy because it’s unfiltered.
Nob Hill Cafe, on Taylor Street, is in a tonier area, on the steep hill near some of the city’s loftiest hotels. It’s full of verve, cozy and friendly, with folks who know where to go for good Italian food. No reservations are taken, so we sip wine at a sidewalk table until we’re led inside and handed menus. Risotto with snap peas and tortellini in creamy pesto sauce–terrific. Also mango gelato with a cheesecake crust to finish it off.
Ferry Plaza Seafood is on the Embarcadero, very San Francisco. We eat outdoors with a view of the Bay Bridge, ferry traffic, strollers and bicyclists. My avocado stuffed with shrimp salad is a treat, along with bread at 50 cents per piece. The bread charge goes to a good cause: restaurant workers’ health benefits. For dessert we munch on fabulous chocolate cookies from Village Market, a specialty foods shop in the Ferry Building. I’d go back for for those, as well as the other little shops selling exotic cheeses, chocolates, herbs, garden gear, mushrooms and more. Then there’s the famous farmers’ market, on Ferry Plaza, where nearly 25,000 people a week come to buy produce, flowers, meats and eggs from regional farmers. A festive scene, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.