Food + Drink

How to Eat Like Sunny McCoskey in San Francisco

Sunny McCoskey, the main character in Nadia Gordon’s Sunny McCoskey Napa Valley Mysteries is a serious foodie. Most of Sunny’s time is spent in California’s verdant Napa Valley solving murders and other quandaries. Nadia Gordon has given us a taste of where Sunny would eat and drink if she were to spend a weekend in the foodie heaven also known as San Francisco.

How to Eat Like Sunny McCoskey in San Francisco

There are two great ways to start a day of hardcore eating in San Francisco, and they’re both in the Mission. If it’s a weekday, then it has to be Tartine. Not fertile ground for the grapefruit and wheat germ crowd, the thing to get is a morning bun crackling with buttery sugar and a sublimely creamy cappuccino, then take your seat, if you can find one, among the apparently endless supply of hip-looking local freelancers. If it’s a weekend, head for Universal Café. Hopefully, you drank a little too much last night (extra points if you’re still dolled up in your club gear) and could really use a bellyful of ballast in the form of French toast with apple-quince compote, pumpkin seed praline, and whipped cream, or perhaps soft scrambled eggs with spinach and sharp white cheddar, mixed greens, and toast, or else poached eggs and creamy polenta with leeks, wild mushrooms, and sun-dried tomato pesto. Be sure to order a side of banana bread with cream cheese for the table, otherwise whoever got the French toast will be besieged by uninvited bite-nabbers. Beware the bottomless coffee cup. I’ve left the place hovering a few feet above the sidewalk.

You’re probably good until dinner, but why not squeeze in a little lunch, since you’re here? Many restaurants have tried and failed to unseat Slanted Door, but it remains my favorite lunch spot, now at home in the Ferry Building Marketplace on the Embarcadero. You can’t sit outside, but you can have a lovely walk by the bay getting there, strolling past the palm trees and the oversized partially embedded bow-and-arrow sculpture no one seems to understand the meaning of. And of course there’s the whole Marketplace to explore, with its gourmet cheeses, chocolates, wines, and whatever else you could need. Once at Slanted Door, I like to order the grapefruit and jicama salad and the chicken clay pot with chilies and fresh ginger and something from the delightful collection of German Rieslings that pair beautifully with most everything on the menu. I also like the staff at Slanted Door. Our waiters always seem to be nice people who are knowledgeable about the food and wine being served. Go figure! Slanted Door also serves afternoon tea 2:30 to 5:30 daily, which is a great little squeeze-in meal with rolls and noodles and tea to get you through to dindins. (As you head back outside, make a left on Embarcadero and stroll down to TCHO, San Francisco’s only chocolate factory. Stop at their beta store to sample the excellent product and you might just meet the makers themselves.)

Speaking of dinner, it’s time to spruce up and head to Quince in Pac Heights. No matter where you start, even if it’s a couple of states away, wear comfortable shoes and walk so you’re sure to have an appetite. I still regret the last few bites I sent off to the compost heap at my last visit. Wine list? Amazing. Bring your wallet. Pastas? Yes, please, several. Heavenly local organic produce rendered delicious in inventive but not silly ways? Yep. What about the meat? Is there no meat? Relax, there is meat, and it’s wonderful. If you’ve been to Oliveto in Oakland, Bay Wolf in Piedmont, or Chez Panisse in Berkeley, you have an idea of what to expect, which is to say simplicity in the Mediterranean vernacular executed at its near-perfect best.

There are perhaps fifty more places we should really patronize before dawn to say that we truly ate our way through the best of San Francisco, but I’m sure you’re ready to dance the night away by now, or else flop on a bench down the street from the restaurant and moan in a happy agony of excess. Tomorrow is another day, which you might start with a jolt of Blue Bottle Coffee and chase with a cupcake or two from Miette, but that’s another story. Hang on, there’s still time to roadtrip up to San Rafael for pollo al horno and plantains at Sol Food. Open until 2am on Friday and Saturday nights!

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Nadia Gordon’s newest Sunny McCloskey Mystery, Lethal Vintage, is available now. Read an excerpt!

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