MONTESACRO: It’s pinsa, not pizza, and you want it

This SF Insider Tip takes you down a bright alley off a sketchy street that even some overly nervous locals ridiculously avoid.  Montesacro is a restaurant worth seeking out–I often recommend it to my private tour guests staying near Union Square.  It serves pinsa, which if you haven’t had it, you want it.

A pinsa is a Roman flatbread, made with rice, soy, and wheat flour, and leavened for at least 72 hours. That makes a difference, as the result is much easier to digest than typical American pizza.

Roman pizza--Insider tip with private tour San Francisco.

But easy digestion is not the reason to go to Montesacro. All the food is simple, delicious, made with top quality ingredients, many imported directly from Rome. Montesacro is named for an area outside of Rome, and the interior makes you feel like you’ve stepped into one of its neighborhood restaurants.

Roman pizza--Insider tip with private tour San Francisco.

There is an interesting wine list, many of which are little known Italian imports, and offer a chance to drink something outside the usual Zin and Cabs. Tell your server what style of wine you like, and at what price. and they will make several suggestions.

Reservations are usually a good idea, but they do hold space for walk-ups.

You will probably have to walk past some of the local folks who live and hang out on 6th street. They’re not going to hassle you. Remember, they’re poor, not dangerous.  It’s their neighborhood, and they see people like you all the time, whether you’re going to have pinsa from Montesacro or Pho Bo from Tu Lan (the celebrated Vietnamese place on 6th St/Market You’ll probably walk by it.)

MONTESACRO

510 STEVENSON ST (at SIXTH STREET)

SAN FRANCISCO

415-795-3040

Amelie–Lively Wine Bar with Great Selection of Wine and Cheese

Seek and ye shall find.

It is easy to stick to favorite restaurants and bars. It makes the decision making process easier, especially after a long week and all I want is a glass of wine in a comfortable place with no surprises to price or atmosphere. What I tend to forget is that the usual places I love were at one time new discoveries.

I discovered Amelie a few weeks ago. It was a night my wife and I were searching for a good glass of wine and some good cheese. We started at a place in the Financial District (or the FiDi, as it is known to those who are very busy and overscheduled and to prove it to us lesser mortals must use an acronym at every opportunity.  By the way, “San Fran” drives me up the wall as well. But that’s another post. Anyway….) which was way overpriced for both the wine and the cheese plate. The portions on the cheese plate seemed to come from scraps tossed onto board as the waiter rushed by the kitchen, and wine, while good, not worth the price.

Great wine bar--private tour San Francisco

Here’s a rule of thumb I share with my private tour guests: if the wine menu doesn’t have at least one glass of wine under $10, consider going somewhere else. If nothing is under $15, run like the wind. You can get good wine all over the city that won’t bust your budget.

Undaunted I searched for “best cheese plate” and Amelie came up as a favorite several times.  And with good reason. It is a lively bar with a large selection of wines by the bottle and glass. The Monday night we were there the special was a bottle of wine and a cheese plate for $35. A steal. The wine was earthy with some spice, not the fruit bomb that is woefully common these days, and the cheese plate had proper portions, not the insulting dainty servings that are far too common.

The attention to good wine and food served at a reasonable price may have something to do with the French atmosphere of Amelie, and the staff, who are also international. They take good wine and food as a birthright, as an indispensable part of life. I couldn’t agree more.

Ameie 1754 Polk Street  (at Washington Street)
Open Seven Days a Week 5:30pm – 2:00am
Happy Hour From 5:30 – 7:00

(415) 292-6916

Check out the wine list

Hotel Biron–Small Wine Bar and Art Gallery

My wife and I have a standing date on Friday night, known as the Wine Hour, even though it lasts longer than that. The Hotel Biron is one of our favorite destinations to mark the end of the week.

Hidden wine bar--private tour San Francisco

It has a rotating wine list with 50 wines or so wines, about of those available half by the glass. The pours are generous, but unless you’re going to sample several different wines (which I endorse) , tell the bartender what sort of wine you like, ask for a taste, and if it is good, buy the bottle. The glass to bottle price at the Hotel Biron makes it a deal. There are 5 glasses to a bottle, so if your group, (or just you) are going to have at least three glasses, get the bottle. You can cork the leftover and take it with you.

The Hotel Biron is one of those places off the tourist path–although it’s conveniently located near Hayes Valley (a favorite stop for my private tour guests who like to shop). It is a small, brick lined place that is not on a main street and doesn’t have a big sign blaring its location. It also doubles as an art gallery with shows by local artists. The last time I was there the one piece I really wanted had already been spoken for. Fortunately, there was wine to ease my pain.
Wine Art--private tour San Francisco

Hotel Biron

45 Rose St., Near Market and Gough 415-703-0403

www.hotelbiron.com

INOVINO–a neighborhood wine bar easy to get to from downtown

Hidden gem discovered on private tour San Francisco If you’re staying downtown, there are many good reasons to hop on the N-Judah street car and take a quick ride to Cole Valley, and the Inner Sunset. There you will experience San Francisco neighborhoods that most visitors miss, and restaurants and wine bars locals love. A private tour is about seeing the city like a local, and discovering hidden gems, and I love telling guest about the neighborhood gem that is Inovino.

Get off the N-Judah at Carl and Cole. Inovino is steps away. Inovino is an intimate restaurant that has simple, good food, and large selection of wine. The happy hour (from 4-6 weekdays, 3-6 Saturday and Sunday) is one of the best deals in the city.

Francesco, the owner knows his wine and has a extensive and interesting list. He created a restaurant where the neighborhood loves to hang out. Is is where my wife and I have our weekly Friday night “wine down.” This is the sort of place you go home and brag about finding.

Inovino, 108 Carl St., 681-3770

The InnerFog–a neighborhood wine bar next to Golden Gate Park

I love New York City, and New Yorkers are quick to tell me I’m correct in this assessment because New York, not the sun, is the center of the universe, or at least the only part of the universe that matters.  I will then concede that when it comes to theater, art, fashion,  pastrami, tall buildings, and corrupt real estate barons, New York outshines San Francisco. But when you want a decent glass of wine under $10, San Francisco doesn’t win, because to win would be to assume there is competition. There isn’t. You can’t get a glass of wine in New York for under a sawbuck unless it can also be pressed into service as nail polish remover. When it comes to wine under $10 a glass, New York City just can’t produce a dog for the fight. There’s no contest. (By the way, I would be glad to be proved wrong on this, so anyone out there who would like to offer up a contender for good, inexpensive wine in NYC, the comment box is open.)

The InnerFog at 545 Irving in the Inner Sunset is one such wine bar that New York lacks. I love showing guests the Inner Sunset on their custom private tour, as it is off the usual path, next to Golden Gate Park, and it is easy to get to especially if you’re staying downtown. Take the N Judah, get off at 7th Ave, and it’s right across the street.

The InnerFog is welcoming anytime, but the happy hour deals convince you you should get off the sidewalk and get inside.  From opening each day (currently 5pm Mon-Wed, 4pm Thurs-Sun) until 7pm Friday you can get good wine for only $7 a glass. The happy hour wine changes every few weeks. Currently I like the Tuscan Sangiovese , but whatever they have whenever you will show up there will be satisfying.

If you can’t make it for happy hour, come anyway. The wine list is well catered and reasonably priced. They have craft beer on tap if that’s your beverage. There are small snack plates if you’re hungry. Art by locals artists. Knowledgeable staff. A friendly group of regulars. All the usual suspects and amenities you want from a neighborhood wine bar.

If you want to brag that you’ve gone off the beaten path and discovered a local’s place in San Francisco, head to the InnerFog. You’ll not only get good wine at a good price, you may win an argument with a New Yorker.

inner fog--a favorite place to be dropped off after a custom private tour of San Francisco

The Best Margaritas in the Universe are in San Francisco

Tommy’s Mexican out at 24th/Geary is one of those off the beaten path places that you’ll love, and be able to boast about visiting when you get back home.  tommy's -- the best margarita on the best custom private tour of San Francisco

While the restaurant is good, the real draw is the small bar serving up 100’s of tequilas. Personally, I like the house margaritas, which are made with quality tequila and fresh limes–no premixed stuff.

 

The place is small, so get there’s early if you want to be sure you get a seat. But even if you don’t, the atmosphere is so friendly that you won’t mind standing.

Julio, (pictured) is the owners’ son, and the mastermind behind creating “The Greatest Tequila Bar on Earth.” He has been featured in numerous magazines and television show. If Julio is there when you are, he will treat you like a friend and long time regular.

julio--a person as unique as a custom private tour of San Francisco

It’s out in the little-visted Richmond district (out in the Avenues, as we say), but easy access from down town on the 38 Geary bus. And you’ll want to take public transportation, because you should never drive in San Francisco anyway, but especially after enjoying the best margaritas you’ll ever have. Of course I can drop you off there after your private tour, but I won’t be drinking, at least until I get the MINI back safely in the garage.

 

http://tommysmexican.com/

Cheap food (and water) on Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf, like any other tourist destination in the world, has overpriced food, and even more overpriced water. A bottle of water will set you back a $1 if you’re lucky, but more likely $2 or more. And the restaurants are, for the most part, over priced and mediocre quality.

Fortunately, if you walk 2 blocks off the wharf, you can save money, and eat better.

At the corner of 401 Bay St. at Mason, there is a Trader Joe’s. For 19 cents you can get a bottle that would cost $2.50 on the wharf. And the bigger bottles are an even better deal. You can also buy sandwiches, salads and snacks.

Trader Joes north beach where guests of the San Francisco custom private tour of stock up

cafe franciso where I often pick up people for their custom private tour of San Francisco

 

If you want to sit down to eat, there is the Cafe Francisco (2161 Powell at Francisco). No only is the food good and reasonably priced, it is a local’s hang out. Cilantro restaurant a favortive of the custom private tour in San Francisco

Down the block at 2257 Mason at Francisco is the Cilantro Taqueria , which serves up great burritos, tacos, and other Mexican food.

This is a rule everywhere in the world—2 blocks off the main tourist street, you find local treasures.

Inner Sunset—the hidden neighborhood next to museums in Golden Gate Park

Most visitors to San Francisco make it out to East end of Golden Gate Park. Aside from it being a beautiful place to stroll, there are museums, gardens, and other attractions. The Conservatory of Flowers (a world famous example of Victorian greenhouse architecture, upper right corner of the map), the Academy of Sciences, the DeYoung Museum, and Japanese Tea Garden  (located around Music Concourse Dr.) are most popular destinations.

But unknown to most visitors is that they are on the edge of neighborhood that has a lot of great restaurants and interesting shops. The Inner Sunset is just a 5 minute walk from the museums along Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. to 9th Ave.

MINI Cooper Tour map of Inner Sunset

Along 9th Ave. you’ll find Misdirections (one of the few brick and mortar magic shops left), Ebisu (my favorite sushi restaurant), and Hotei (Japanese noodles). Turn left at Irving, and within a few blocks there is Amazing Fantasy comic books (8th Ave), Inner Fog (great wine bar, between 6th and 7th), the Crepevine (good and inexpensive food, especially for breakfast and lunch, between 7th and 8th) and several coffee shops. If you’re around during lunch, drop into the Wolly Pig for great sandwiches, (at Hugo and 3rd.) Turn right at 9th and Irving, and down the street (between 11th and 12th) is San Tung, where people line up for the amazing chicken wings.

Those are just some of the places to discover in this neighborhood. And after you’re done exploring getting back downtown is a snap on the N Judah.

 

 

Tony’s Pizza–worth the wait

You know you’re in for some seriously good pizza when the front of the menu proclaims “Respect the Craft.” Tony is a real guy,11 time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani. It doesn’t take much searching on the web to find hundreds of raves, so I won’t go into a long review, other than to say my favorite is the Picante (found under Classic American.)

They don’t take reservations, so plan to wait either at the bar or somewhere else (they will take you cell phone number and call when your table is ready. Fortunately, since Tony’s is in the heart of North Beach (1570 Stockton at Union), there are a lot of bars and coffee shops nearby.

http://www.tonyspizzanapoletana.com/index.php