Sometimes it seems if you're not up on the latest, newest restaurant, or are lagging behind while chasing San Francisco's food wordsmiths about what's happening right now, you might miss what's incredible. In the Bay Area you could miss The Dish everyone's talking about if you're not in 30 places on one night. So many restaurants here change their menus daily, and seasonally-- more than any city/ region I've ever cooked in, that it can take years to taste it all, plus there's always another eatery opening-- it makes our heads spin trying to keep them all straight.
Whew! All the head-spinning can blur what's right in front of us: a neighborhood joint, a down-to-earth 50 seat house, or the corner place you pass by every day on your way to work. In these Off-Broadway or Off-Off Broadway stages there are great plates going out every day, every night, year after year. The food is good or great, or it's consistent. The chef is famous or not, and the cooks on the line want to be chefs one day or they continue to collect the paycheck that keeps their family fed.
As a professional cook it's important for me to read and eat and meet new restaurants. But the dishes I crave, the dining rooms I want to have a good conversation in, are rarely those I've eaten at once. Anything can be amazing once. But how does that dish taste month after month, year after year?
Samovar Tea Lounge was going strong at 18th and Sanchez at the edge of The Castro District when I "discovered it" a few years ago. It didn't need me to talk about it's specialness. It's busy morning, noon and evening. People inside are studying, knitting, reading, sipping, recovering, dating, scoping, listening and imbibing. Samovar's food menu is straightforward and small, changing slightly with the seasons. There are breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and high tea offerings. Tea service menus include food and tea in a theme and they are always gracious about letting you order one of the components from these packages with another dish.
My absolute favorite dish is what Samovar calls their egg bowl. Two delicately poached eggs lay next to mounds of flavorful rice and are garnished with the protein of your choice; smoked duck, salmon and tofu are often in rotation, and there's a little ramekin of fresh ginger grated in soy sauce. I'm also a big fan of their house-made scones (some of the best in the Bay Area as far as I'm concerned!), not just because the little bowl of clotted cream for spreading is the real deal.