Apparently there is a show called "$40 a Day" hosted by Rachael Ray which airs on the Food Network. Perhaps you've seen it. I haven't. I don't have cable. As of yesterday, I don't even have a TV. I'm not making this up. With the intention of freeing up my creative energy (remember, I live in San Francisco), I just sold my 19-inch Magnavox television and VCR on craigslist to an art student for, you guessed it, $40.
So, in celebration of dumping this time-wasting, mind-numbing, brain-washing device, I thought it would be ironic fun to be television personality Rachael Ray for the day, which is the theme for the fourth edition of Dine & Dish. Limiting myself to $40 total (unlike the real Rachael--how does she do it?--not including tax or tip), where would I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in my home town?
I set out yesterday morning with my newly earned 40 bucks burning a hole in my pocket and my hunger pangs burning a hole in my stomach. Since I had recently returned to San Francisco from a long absence, I was easily able to look at my city through the eyes of a tourist, specifically a food-loving tourist. If I were here for just one day and only had $40 (who, I ask you, who in their right mind would come to one of the most expensive cities in the world with just 40??), where would I eat?
First, I ditched the car. San Francisco is parking hell.
Since San Francisco has often been called the most European of America's cities, I started my day in the French fashion with a relatively light breakfast of a croissant and a cafe au lait ($2) at Tartine in the trendy, gentrified (i.e. yuppie) part of the Mission District. Not just any croissant, but the best damn frangipane croissant outside of Paris ($2.95) at San Francisco's premier bakery/patisserie. And not just any cup of coffee, but a steaming hot bowl of Mr. Espresso coffee, made from beans roasted over oak wood across the Bay in Oakland, mixed with organic Straus milk from Marin County.
While I was in the neighborhood, I walked over to view the beautiful murals, my favorite in the city, on The Women's Building and then meandered through Dolores Park, all within a block of Tartine. As a foodie, I also enjoyed perusing the menus of Delfina (way out of my cheap skate price range) and their new pizzeria and strolling the aisles of Bi Rite, which is the highest quality gourmet market per square foot (it's tiny) in the city. Both are on the same block as Tartine.
One of the things I like best about my city is its incredible ethnic diversity. The two largest non-European populations are Chinese and Latino, so I wanted to include tastes of both of their cuisines on my food tour.
If it's lunch, then it's time to yum cha (drink tea) and eat dim sum. The Bay Area has the best dim sum parlors this side of the Pacific, including Ton Kiang in the Richmond district, Fook Yuen in Millbrae and Koi Palace in Daly City. Even though I only had $35 left to spend, I decided to go all out and feast on the best and most expensive Cantonese dim sum in the city at Yank Sing in the opulent Rincon Center. I knew I had come to the right place, because on my way in I ran into none other than Lidia Bastianich, who had just finished lunch there (I may not know Rachael Ray from Ray Charles, but I had to refrain myself from bowing down and worshiping at the feet of the Italian restaurateur/cookbook author). Once seated, I tucked into all kinds of dumplings, including my favorite chive-and-shrimp and pea-shoot stuffed (pictured) ones, and Yank Sing's signature Peking duck, and washed it all down with a glass pot filled with pu-erh tea (the traditional tea to accompany dim sum, but jasmine or oolong are also available). My portion of the feast cost $22.50, before tax and tip.
One of the reasons I chose Yank Sing is its exquisite location a block from the Ferry Building, a must-see destination for food-loving tourists. After stuffing myself silly on dim sum, I thought l just possibly might be able to resist the temptations of some of the Bay Area's top food artisans that have shops there. I made one exception. Since it's summer, I couldn't leave the Ferry Building without spending $1.75 for the most perfect sweet and juicy organic peach from Frog Hollow Farm's store to have later in the afternoon as a snack.
From the Ferry Building, you can either stroll north up the Embarcadero to visit the sea lions at the touristy Pier 39 (and from there take a ferry to Alcatraz if you're feeling so inclined) or west to Union Square for your consumerist fix.
In the evening, I took the underground BART to the 24th St. station, the heart of the real Mission. From the station it's just one block to taco heaven, La Taqueria, which I've written about before. I ordered my usual: a pork carnitas taco with avocado ($4.50, on the left), a vegetarian bean and cheese taco with avocado ($3, on the right), and a small sweet-sour tamarindo drink ($2). They also have killer burritos without any of the superfluous rice, but the tacos exist on a higher, more rarefied plane. Hell, they're even on The Short List (see left column)!
My appetite sated and a total of $38.70 spent (plus, I'll admit, in addition to the remaining $1.30, I spent another $10, more or less, on tax and tip), I returned home wondering about tomorrow...Where should I go? What should I eat?