Ritual in the Hayes Valley

Day 1: Food adventure in San Francisco

September 2, 2011 | 6 Comments.

Are you looking for an urban weekend trip?  Consider hopping on a 1.5 hour flight from Seattle and embarking on a food adventure in San Francisco, where good food and beautiful scenery are world class.

Here are a few highlights from my recent trip to the area:

  • Lunch at Brenda’s French Soul Food
  • Mid-day pick-me-up at Ritual Coffee
  • Dinner at Aziza

1)   Brenda’s French Soul Food I know I am in for a treat when I arrive at the tail-end of a typical lunch hour at 1:30pm on a Friday afternoon and see a hoard of hip SF’ers congregating outside, waiting for their opportunity to chow down at this Creole and French restaurant.

Patiently waiting to score one of the coveted tables as Brenda's


By the time I land a seat at this petite restaurant located on the edge of the Tenderloin and the Civic Center, I am feeling a little saucy so I kick off the meal with a boozy Bloody Mary.  I am torn between tempting options such as the croque monsieur and the cinnamon-battered brioche French toast, but decide on my maiden voyage to Brenda’s it is only fitting I stick with the Creole classics – beignets and shrimp & grits.

I order a flight of beignets because I can do whatever I want.  I quickly decide the savory crayfish variation is my favorite until the waitress tells me to spread the plain beignet with some of Brenda’s homemade strawberry jam.  Score.

Flight of beignets - Plain, chocolate, apple and crawfish coated with an Old Bay-like seasoning (pictured from left to right)


Part way through stuffing my face, I ask the waitress, “Who is Brenda?”, thinking the joint is sentimentally named after someone’s daughter or poodle. The waitress – in her dark-rimmed glasses and rolled-up skinny jeans – curiously looks at me as if I am asking her a trick question, pauses and then responds- “Brenda is the lady in the back cooking the food.”  I look into the kitchen and see a dark-haired petite woman hustling between order requests.  I want to yell out, “Thanks Brenda!” like we are BFFs or something, but I don’t.

I am pretty full after the beignets, but manage to take full advantage of my favorite Creole dishes – shrimp & grits.  Between the heat from the shrimp and grits and the nice buzz from the Bloody Mary, I leave Brenda’s feeling warmly flush and ready to face the SF mist and fog awaiting me outside.

Tip: One SF food enthusiast who lives a few blocks from Brenda’s tells me he has always found the lines so daunting he has still never tried the joint to this day.  Rest assured, hope is on the way.  Brenda’s is in the process of expanding.  The manager tells me the expansion will be completed in the next 7-8 weeks.

Brenda's expansion in progress


2) Ritual Coffee – After living in Seattle for nine years, the sight of coffee stands barely phase me (not even the cute ones), but Ritual Coffee’s Hayes Valley modular trailer outpost catches my eye.

I feel like I am on the set of a hipster movie and I like it


The onsite manager informs me all of the enthusiastic (yet not elitist) baristas go through a Navy Seal-like coffee training camp.  Ok, game on then.  I select a made-to-order drip which sounds like an oxymoron and makes me feel slightly skeptical.  The wait is absolutely worth it as my warm brown beverage has a sweet rich taste to it and goes down smooth.

Since this roastery makes each drink to order, you may want to take a pass if you are in a hurry, but if I lived here, I would set my alarm clock an extra 8 minutes early everyday just to start the day off with their brew.

Made-to-order drip coffee is worth the wait


3) Dinner at Aziza – When food-loving locals tell me I have to eat here, I listen. This inner Richmond establishment is the first Moroccan restaurant to ever receive a Michelin star.  When you take in the first spoonful of Aziza’s lentil soup, you immediately understand why.  The hand-rolled date pieces with miniscule, uber-crunchy celery bites lurking underneath a pool of brown broth and lentils honor the authentic taste of this staple Morcocaan cuisine, while adding a creative dimension.

The interior of the restaurant is painted in vivid colors, which is perfectly offset by the dimmed lighting that feels current, inviting, and cozy.

The dishes are hit after hit.  One of my favorites is the duck confit basteeya appetizer wrapped in buttery crisped dough. As I cut into it, the smells of cinnamon and other sweet fragrances come seeping out.  Other high notes:  The quail is cooked perfectly with just the right amount of pink inside and the cauliflower entree comes out crunchy, perfectly seasoned with a thin layer of foam.

Duck confit basteeya with raisins, pistachios 


Click here to read about my Day 2 – SF adventures.


6 Responses to “Day 1: Food adventure in San Francisco”

  1. For something a little more lowbrow, Ive been going to El Farolito in the mission district for twenty years or more. Its often my first stop from a late night plane ride. Half a burrito for late night snack, half for breakfast :)
    Gotta love these mixed reviews from Burritophile

    • Jen (Roll with Jen)

      Thanks for sharing, Andre. The mixed reviews are intriguing. I will definitely be checking out this burrito joint during my next visit to SF.

  2. Your write up makes my mouth water — I best get myself to SF before the holiday season to savor some of the Bay Area treats!! Thanks for all the insider tips, Jen!

    • Jen (Roll with Jen)

      …and Fall means the start of crab season in SF if that isn’t reason enough to head to the Bay Area. Thanks Kimmie for your support!

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