Sandbar – Vancouver, BC

Sandbar Seafood Restaurant
1535 Johnston Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 669-9030

Much like an undercover agent infiltrating a tightly closed society, there are times when I deliberately jump right into the most touristy spots I can think of to try and get a sense of what drives non-locals to visit such eating establishments.  More often than not, these kind of places are always touted and raved about by the native city’s mainstream media and publications, that surprisingly have far reaching audiences.  Chalk it up to the incredibly connected and digital world we live in.  In the past twelve years,  I’ve had the pleasure of setting up a home base in four major cities now and in each one, I’ve conducted a similar exercise just for fun.  Here in Vancouver, The Sandbar rated high on my list of tourist traps.

However this time, I had some out of town visitors in tow with me as I guided them around the markets at Granville Island and rather than bother with making a long stroll back to the vehicle we came in, I popped inside up and up the stairs to see if we could get a table on short notice.  Being that it was a beautiful summer day, I had my doubts we could get one on the outdoor patio and that ended up being the case.  Instead we were seated just inside, but the view of the water below was pretty much obscured.  For visitors, provided you get a good stroll around the Island ahead of dinner, I think you can pretty much picture the view you could have if seated on the rail on the patio.

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The Grove Yerba Buena – San Francisco, CA

The Grove Yerba Buena
690 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 957-0558

Unfortunately I did not bother to shoot a photo of the exterior of The Grove’s outlet in Yerba Buena, so this below capture from Google Street View that shows the location before they set up shop was the best I could do.  Suffice it to say, its easy to find being just three blocks from the Montgomery Street BART station, and just a block from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  Next door is a coffee house and the general area is populated by numerous large hotel chains for the business and leisure traveler.  After overpaying for some ridiculously priced hotel breakfast the previous day, we opted to drag our overworked behinds out onto the streets and by sure luck we found this place where things were more relaxed, both in terms of atmosphere and prices.

Something about the west coast lifestyle that pervades in this beautiful city must have impregnated itself in my mind for breakfast, as I was on the hunt for something nutritious and light.  Coupled with a smooth tasting Americano, my order ended up being a simple plate of fresh ingredients,  highlighted by two small poached eggs, two thick slices of grilled zucchini, and tomato bruschetta.  Given the backup in the kitchen, a number sign was given to me and it was brought out to my table by a server in a few minutes time.

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Pizzeria Delfina – San Francisco, CA

Pizzeria Delfina
3611 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 437-6800

There’s  a movement going on all around us. I call it the gentrification of fast food. First burgers. Now pizza. Almattone argues with me that it’s “fancification”, not gentrification. Whatever you want to call it, it’s happening. Staple fast food is turning into haute cuisine.

In a recent Rachel Ray Magazine special, Ed Levine and Adam Kuban created a “March Madness” bracket for pizzerias around the US. Pitting East against West, South-Southwest against Mid-west, they identified some of the top pizzerias and dared to compared. As a sports fan who also loves pizza, i found this to be a fantastically fun exercise. One of several Bay Area competitors was Pizzeria Delfina.

Pizzeria Delfina was founded by Craig and Anne Stoll of the extremely popular Delfina Restaurant next door. The winner of the 2008 James Beard award for Best Chef in the West, Craig Stoll was inspired to create Pizzeria Delfina based on the pizzerias of NYC, and Naples. What he has done is brought his expertise and love of quality ingredients to the neighbourhood pizza joint. And the neighbourhood loves it. Between the Bi-rite and Tartine Bakery, this is a veritable stretch of culinary goodness.

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In N Out Burger, San Francisco, CA

In N Out Burger
11 Rollins Rd.
Millbrae, California 94030 (right by SFO)

The recent argument Shokutsu and I had on Foodosophy regarding burgers would suggest that I eat a tremendous number of them. Which isn’t quite true. Dissatisfied with the quality of most burgers, I typically eat them at home, or at special occasions. I prefer to skip fast food. The idea of microwaved burgers, mass produced frozen food just doesn’t appeal to me, nor does it meet my idea of responsible consumerism. An exception to the rule would be In N Out Burger. A privately-owned, west coast fast food chain that I visit immediately upon touching down, anytime i’m on the West Coast. LV. LA. Phoenix. San Francisco. I know where each of the locations closest to the airport are by heart.

Much has been written about In N Out. First brought to mainstream attention in Fast Food Nation, they have developed a pristine reputation, and for good reason. No freezers, heat lamps, or microwaves. Everything made fresh, by hand, daily. Hand cut fries. Hand made patties. Bake their own buns. Well treated employees. Benefits. A social conscience. This is one well-run burger chain with a marketing twist – the secret menu. There’s nothing like a “secret” to generate some buzz.

In N Out offers a very basic menu. Double cheesburger (called a Double-double), a hamburger, a cheese burger, fries, milkshakes, and soda pop. That’s it. Sometimes, less really is more. However, the so called secret menu (which is not so secret anymore, part of it is listed on their website) is In N Out specific lingo to tell them how you want your order.

First, there’s animal style. On your burger, it means pickles, grilled onions, and extra sauce. You can also get your fries animal style. This is the grilled onions, thousand island sauce, and cheese. You order your burgers in combinations of meat and cheese. Double double is 2 meat patties, two cheese. Triple Triple is the aforementioned burger with three of each. 3×5 is 3 patties and 5 slices of cheese, and so on. The largest INO burger ever confirmed is the 666×666. Fries can come in light, regular, and well done. Vegetarians can get grilled cheese. There are a variety of other options, all in various combinations of bun/no bun, cheese,

What is there to say? Not a lot. Things can be summed up quite easily. The burgers are excellent. I definitely prefer the double double, animal style, for the right combination of meat, cheese, toppings, and bun. I think the fries are terrible. Light, regular, well done, other than being fresh cut, don’t have much redeeming qualities. Limp, soggy, they havent been double fried, resulting in a lousy fry. If you must get them, get the fries animal style. At least the cheese and onions and spread make it reasonable. Milkshakes are good – i stick with vanilla, though neapolitan is good for a mix. The best part? The price. While the decor and the values seem like they belong in the 70’s, so do the prices.

The food at In N Out definitely falls under the category of guilty pleasure, if only for the caloric reasons. With fresh food, and a good organization behind it, they leave you feeling pretty good, even after a few double doubles. After all, how can something that taste so good, be so wrong? In the case of In N Out, it can’t.