Begin your tasting tour with lunch at Arlequin Cafe. The charming all-day spot from the Absinthe Group has one of the best back patios in the city. On a warm day, it’s a great place to enjoy a leisurely lunch. There’s something for everyone on the menu, from a pastrami-packed reuben sandwich on sliced rye to a roasted beet salad with blood orange, toasted almonds, and feta cheese. It’s a casual spot where you order at the counter, but the food is satisfying and delicious. The cafe is connected to Arlequin Wine Merchant, a lovely little wine shop that has an excellent selection of bottles. You can pick one out and drink it with your lunch next door, or simply sample a single glass from their collection.
You’ve had a filling lunch and some delicious wine, so naturally, you’ll need a pick-me-up in the form of a cup of coffee, right? Walk west on Hayes Street until you reach Octavia Street, then turn right. A block away, you’ll come to the cozy little cafe with a few bistro tables out front. At Artís, they roast the finest beans (from sustainable and ethically sourced farmers all over the world) to deliver the freshest coffee available.Order a cappuccino or a vanilla latte. They make their own vanilla syrup in-house for the lattes and the lovely fragrance of vanilla permeates the brightly lit space. The friendly staff loves to talk about coffee, so if you have questions about brewing the perfect pot at home, this is the time and place to ask.
Two Sisters Bar and Books
Perhaps you're thirsty for a drink that’s a little more potent. If that’s the case, head west on Hayes Street to Two Sisters Bar and Books. The quaint little watering hole has an old school vibe: there’s light pink wallpaper covered in an old ship design, shelves with vintage books, wooden bistro chairs, and moody lighting. Despite the dark appearance, the bar is actually quite inviting and intimate. It gets pretty packed, so you may have to scout a spot at the bar or one of the tiny round tables that dot the wall. Order a classic cocktail like the Last Word, a mixture of gin, lime juice, chartreuse and luxardo, or a more exotic concoction like their Smoke & Flowers, which combines hibiscus-infused tequila with mezcal, lemon, lime and salt. Note that the bar is cash only, so come with change or be prepared to hit up the ATM.
What’s that? You’re hungry? How about a French meal from one of America’s most illustrious female chefs? Petit Crenn, from chef Dominique Crenn, is a block up Hayes Street. There are two dining options available here. You can pull up a stool at the chef’s counter (a small bar of 10 seats) and order dinner off the a la carte menu or make a reservation in advance for the five-course tasting menu. The all-seafood-and-vegetable prix fixe has two seatings nightly at 6 p.m. and at 8:30 p.m. At $79 per person, it’s a steal for the quality and caliber of food that’s being served. Plus, the meal ends up being more than five courses if you add on the extras that come with it. On a recent night, diners were fortunate enough to taste oysters with apple cider gelée, Parisienne gnocchi with black trumpets, grilled market fish, butter bean casserole with Swiss chard and smoked breadcrumbs, charred brassica, kettle gems salad with caper-anchovy vinaigrette, fromage, citrus tart with Italian meringue and mignardises.
Smitten Ice Cream
While you might be tempted to order a brownie or cookie from the scrumptious-looking pastries at Arlequin earlier in the day, resist the urge to order dessert. Why? Because Smitten is quite possibly the best ice cream you’ll ever taste. In 2006, Stanford business school grad Robyn Sue Fisher developed a patented technology for a machine that uses liquid nitrogen to freeze small batches of artisanal ice cream. She put her machine on top of a Radio Flyer wagon and hit the streets of San Francisco where she has developed a cult-like following for her insanely creamy, made-to-order ice cream. Today there are six Smitten locations throughout the Bay Area, with the original one located in Hayes Valley across the street from Patricia's Green. The seasonal flavors change per month. Smitten makes a bunch of tasty mix-ins: brown sugar caramel, strawberry prosecco sauce and oatmeal cookie crumble, to name a few, so you may be tempted to build your own sundae.
Hungry for more of Hayes Valley? Here are some other noteworthy spots.
Monsieur Benjamin (451 Gough St.)
Upscale French cuisine from a Thomas Keller protégé.
Biergarten (424 Octavia St.)
A German style beer garden with plenty of picnic tables and sausages for a leisurely afternoon of beer sampling.
Fatted Calf (320 Fell St.)
High-quality meats by one of San Francisco’s most well-known butchers, Taylor Boetticher.
Avital Tours offers four-course progressive dining experiences in North Beach, Union Square, and the Mission District. You'll meet chefs and industry experts, and have the opportunity to see, smell, and taste what shapes each unique neighborhood— from the food (and drinks) to the art, history, and culture. Tickets available at www.avitaltours.com