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One man’s opinion: top 5 coffee shops in San Francisco

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This post appeared on SF Foodie today: San Francisco’s Top Five Coffee Shops

We’ve been to all those listed, some several times in fact. I like the reviewers scene-setting at the start, what he’s looking for in a great coffee/coffee shop. The only slightly dodgy candidate is Cafe Trieste – we’ve been there a couple of times but I think the coffee is made too hurriedly so the taste is not up to it.

Here are my previous reviews on 4 of the 5 listed:

Currently we’re drinking Reveille Coffee from their truck just around the corner from work which I’d put in the top 5 today, and of course we spent the last year drinking from Elite Audio Cafe before our office moved.

London coffee map

As well as asking friends for coffee recommendations in London I did my usual online search. We created a map in Google Maps but not knowing whether or not we’d have data on our phones while there I went armed with an old-school map as well. Post-it notes in the A-Z of London!

London coffee map

With one sip of good coffee …

In our search for coffee shops for our upcoming trip to London we came across this great statement on the website of Taylor Street Baristas, a cafe recommended by a friend in London. Awesome!

The first time you have a really good coffee can be a bit of a curse. With one sip, your expectations are radically transformed. All other coffee is ruined for you. Coffee shops that used to prop up every corner of every city block soon reveal themselves to be mere pretenders: the blind serving the blind.  Purveyors of limp and burnt and watery coffee.

With one sip, your coffee options dwindle to a precious few: a mere handful of skilled baristas capable of meeting your newly enlightened needs.

Yours is a wretched plight, indeed.  For those who inhabit this lonely world, we welcome you to our humble little corner of the web: a place where real coffee lovers can gather around and share and console and learn from each other.

Will track them down and let you know what we think of the coffee!

Sunday brunching

Well well aren’t we getting all citified and metropolitan … just realized the last 3 Sundays in a row we’ve been out for brunch. Mid-morning is my ideal coffee and a cookie time of day but it’s not when I like eating breakfast: as a reasonably early riser, it’s way too long after I wake up to wait for coffee, brunch places don’t usually have toast and peanut butter so you’re forced to have something large like pancakes or eggs however, the silver lining is that by having a ‘large’ late breakfast, I don’t need lunch! The meal I actually hate most. The late coffee headaches haven’t been too bad either so perhaps it’s a trend that will continue.

3 Sundays ago – we went to a new neighborhood for us in San Fransisco, Noe Valley, where some other fairly recent New Zealand arrivals have set up their home, people we knew in Wellington, but not that well. We went to Zazie where our friends had to arrive before 9am to line up and wait for a sheet of paper on a clipboard to be hung on the cafe window, at which time everyone milling on the sidewalk lined up to write their name and number in their party on the list. When the cafe opened at 9am (by then we’d arrived) the owner came out and called good morning to everyone, took down the clipboard, and read out each name in turn, escorting them into a table until the cafe was full, then he crossed the first 20 names off the list, shut the door, and went out again to call the next name when the first set of diners started leaving.

Busy brunch spot

The system worked! I had pancakes that time, and orange juice. Wasn’t going to trust the coffee, and a sip of the Mister’s told me I’d made the right choice. However, being New Zealanders, they knew we’d need a second stop for decent coffee pretty quickly. We walked along Haight Street and got some Blue Bottle in the Haight Street Market before spending the rest of the morning strolling through Golden Gate Park. Very nice.

Last Sunday we were in New York – yippeeee! Upon Cousin Grant’s recommendation we found our way to Market Table in the West Village for brunch – he was out on a 4-hour bike ride through New Jersey while we were eating. Unlike San Francisco, when we got there at 10am when they opened, there was no line around the block and in fact we were the first to arrive. Turned out it was a combination of daylight savings starting the night before so lots of people thought it was 9am, it was pretty cold and New Yorkers are late to rise, late to bed. However the place started filling up pretty quickly after we went in.

Market Table

Again I didn’t trust the coffee so had some freshly squeezed juice which was fresh and this time poached eggs on grain toast. Man it was good. I can’t remember the last time I had a poached egg and this one was organic and almost cooked hard through, just perfect. And the toast, was toast. Not strange sweet bread with white butter. I was very impressed. The coffee stop following was Third Rail nearby in The Village, a spot I’d heard much about but never visited, great coffee.

And today, back in San Francisco we headed over to North Beach to meet Kara to stand in line for brunch at Mama’s. Famous in these parts. We’d stood there a couple of years ago with Bev and Dan but gave up after not moving much for 45 minutes.

San Francisco Sunday morning

This time we were there earlier and an hour after we arrived, we were at our table waiting for our brunch, after standing at a second line inside where you order at the counter before sitting down. A rather strange system. The place was mostly full of tourists, a very small L-shaped cafe. The food was a bit more diner-style which I didn’t enjoy that much – this time my poached eggs were floating in water in a side dish on a plate of plastic-bag loaf sweet white bread toast, a pile of chopped fried potatoes and a decorative slice of orange. The eggs weren’t quite cooked enough for my liking and I could still taste the vinegar they were poached in. However we were there for a long overdue catchup with Kara not having spent much time with her because of trips to New Zealand, Florida, New York and a bit of a cold. We also had a few sips of house coffee from large green mugs, but did go for the coffee seconds at Trieste in Little Italy not far away afterwards.

Not sure if we’ll be out for brunch next weekend or where we might end up – New York is the winning brunch so far!

2011 – Top 10 coffee shops

Without diplomacy or agenda, based on taste & consistency, these are the best places I’ve had coffee in 2011.

  1. Ninth Street Espresso Chelsea Market – New York
  2. Customs Brew Bar – Wellington
  3. Blue Bottle Ferry – San Francisco
  4. Stumptown Ace Hotel – New York
  5. Blue Bottle Mint – San Francisco
  6. Public Domain – Portland
  7. RBC NYC – New York
  8. People’s Garage – Wellington
  9. Stumptown Roasters – Portland
  10. Fuel Espresso Willis – Wellington

Bonny Doon Cellar Door

This isn’t a particularly good photo so it certainly won’t support the high rating I’d give our dinner at the bar at the Bonny Doon vineyard’s cellar door in Santa Cruz. When we were having coffee at Verve Coffee Roasters I overhead a couple of locals talking about how great the restaurant was with a new chef and that they had a very cool community table idea. A bit of quick Googling we found they did a couple of sittings each evening, being Saturday we weren’t sure of our chances but as it was just out of town on the drive back to San Francisco we thought we’d call in hoping to be in time for the early sitting so we could get on the road for the 1.5 hour drive back.

When we got there the restaurant was fully booked but the greeter lady said we were welcome to do a tasting at the bar and try something from the limited bar menu – just a few items from the full menu. We looked at the menu and it might’ve seem limited to ordinary folk but for me it had the only couple of things on it I’d want anyway – pizza and potatoes.

Plus we love sitting at the bar. We got up on the stools and had a very knowledgeable chap run us through a wine tasting and bring us a selection of dishes from the menu. Roasted fingerling potatoes & aoili, some kind of speck, cheese & onion pizza and green salad with crumbled hazel nuts. Also I got to drink something non-alcoholic from the vineyard which gives them a huge thumbs up – they had some recently harvested grape juice – delicious!

Bonny Doon Vineyard

Bonny Doon Vineyard, 321 Ingalls Street, Santa Cruz


Friday night we went out to Brooklyn with Cousin Grant to a new restaurant just opened, Kiwiana. By it’s name you’ll guess it’s a New Zealand-themed place. Someone had tweeted about it a month or so ago so I emailed Cousin Grant and suggested we try it if it was open by the time of our visit. It was further into Brooklyn than we’d been before and when we got there the place was jam packed. When we walked in I expected to be overwhelmed by Kiwi accents but I only heard it once or twice as we were shown to our table at the back nearest the kitchen.

I’d seen the menu before we went but wasn’t sure what to have – all I knew was I needed to save room for a lamington! We had an American waitress who figured out we were all from New Zealand pretty quickly so she didn’t need to explain to us what milo or lamingtons were! I chose the vegetable pie and it was DIVINE! Lovely light pastry with a filling of slightly minted peas, zucchini and potato. Yum. The boys had a kiwi burger and ribs – both reported excellence. The only dampner at the point of ordering was that they didn’t have their liquor license yet so The Mister had to run to a wine shop down the street to get a bottle – while we understood the situation, it would’ve been nice to be told that when we rung to make the reservation so we could’ve brought something with us.

After our dinner the waitress brought someone over to meet us – Mark Simmons the chef. Felt famous like we were back at Capitol in Wellington when the chef sometimes stopped by our table! After hi’s and names and compliments on the food were given, The Mister surprised me by saying to Mark “Where do I know you from? Have you been on television?” After Mark saying “mabye” The Mister did that wagging/pointing finger thing he does and said “Yes! You were on Top Chef!” Mark seemed surprised it had aired in New Zealand. The Mister impressed him even further “Yes yes – you made that deep dish and used marmite.” I remembered that but how he did right in that instant I don’t know! Anyway Mark seemed pretty impressed.

Then it was time for dessert – of course I was way too full because the lamingtons came served in threes. However, Cousin Grant came to my rescue and volunteered to eat what I couldn’t manage. Yaaaaay! The waitress seemed bemused by my excitement. My god they were good. It’s been years since I’ve had a lamington and they were lovely and soft which I was quite surprised by – I’d seen them bringing cake boxes out of a pantry from time to time and assumed the sponges were made offsite and if made by Americans using American ingredients I thought they might be a little more solid. I managed to eat one.

When it came time to pay the bill we realised how reasonably priced the meals were – not New York prices at all! And my lamingtons were free seeing as I’d been so excited to have them 🙂


Photo from Kiwiana’s Facebook page. And more pictures on the Here’s Park Slope website including one of the shelf at the back of the resaurant with all sorts of New Zealand items on it including a set of collector tea spoons, a jar of marmite and a tin of Edmond’s Baking Powder.


Last night we went to Marlowe for dinner – was a bit of a blind date really. One of Xero’s investors who lives here wasn’t able to catch up with us due to being out of town so he introduced us to his good friends, one an ex-Kiwi, over email. They emailed us and suggested early drinks and dinner at Marlowe.

It was a lovely rustic dining room in the bottom of a brick warehouse-type building – dark wooden chairs and rustic wooden tables – some long shared tables, a high table with stools and a bar. I’d already checked out their website and menu and was pretty sure that Anna in the couple we were meeting owned the restaurant – turned out she did! She’s an ex-Kiwi, opening her 3rd San Francisco restaurant shortly so we sat at the high table drinking wine and eating the first of their specialties – fried Brussels sprout chips. I know … sounds gross right?! Actually surprisingly edible … the fleshy stalk bit tasted slightly vegetabley otherwise they were blacked and salty. The Mister was addicted – so Mother, there’s hope!!


We met a rather gregarious investor in the restaurant – a fairly rich man who owns planes and has been the CEO of various tech companies that I recognised – felt like rather a socialite! We were joined by James after a while, Anna’s husband, who works in tech so we chatted another hour or so before they had to take off and invited us to stay on without them and eat at the bar – we had a couple of their second specialty – the Marlowe Burger. OMG – really good! Not too big, nice moist meat, tasty sauce that wasn’t too spicy hot, and great fries with some skin still on. I couldn’t manage it all but we noticed a couple of plates going out with half burgers so maybe I could order that next time! Have to admit not quite as good as Shake Shack to my taste – just can’t go past the sweet potato buns and small meat patties.


They had one of those wall wine racks, wooden with slanted down holes in rows where normally wine bottles would slip in neck first – but they had lemons stuck in the holes – looked really cool but couldn’t get a photo without leaning all over people (we’re too new in town for that kind of behaviour) and it was quite dark. Only confusing part of the evening was when I went to the ‘Restrooms’ – I couldn’t figure out why the door was locked and huffed and puffed and shoved at it before realising it was locked … wondering why someone would lock the hall door through to the restrooms … later I discovered that was the bathroom, right there through that door, 1 toilet, so the’RestroomS’ sign was a bit misleading! When Craig asked for the check the maitre d’ told us that Anna had taken care of it – our mouths practically dropped open and we felt SUPER special – we’ve never met a restaurant owner who’s shouted us a meal at their restaurant – we’ve made it in this town!

We’ll definitely be back there when we’re in San Francisco again – somewhere great to take friends and family to feel like a local.

Marlowe, 330 Townsend Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 @marlowesf

Baristas in trilby hats

You may recall that a lot of my coffee reviews from New York drew the conclusion that if a guy in a trilby hat is making the coffee, then it’s going to be good – like the guy we spotted when we went into RBC on Worth St.

However, thanks to this article in the New York Times it seems that baristas are required to wear a hair restraint. So if we judge a barista purely by the fact that they wear a hat we may be disappointed although thankfully all our hat-wearing baristas were pretty good!


Had a night in Auckland on our way to Awakeri for Christmas this year to see Cousin Grant who was there for a few days. Before dinner we did a little circuit around the block from our hotel to see the Sky Tower all lit up in red and green for Christmas and seedy Santa on top of Whitcoulls – although he’s been spruced up for his 50th anniversary and wasn’t so seedy anymore, the mechanical eye and finger gone.

Dinner was at Clooney – thanks to a recommendation on Twitter after The Mister asked if anyone knew a good place to eat in Auckland. They were fully booked when we rang but they kept our number and the day before had rung to let us know of a cancellation. The restaurant seemed in a rather out of the way place at the back of Victoria Park Market, but I suppose everyone drives everywhere in Auckland so that probably goes unnoticed and it only took us 15 minutes to walk from downtown anyway which was great. The first thing that struck me about the restaurant was the clientele – a crowd arriving via stretch limo in all their finery which made me feel rather self-conscious in my jeans, never mind my Helmut Lang top purchased at Barney’s … I had every right to be there!! Anyway, once inside I realized it didn’t matter – it was so damn dark! Lights really low, black string curtains around each black circular table, dimly lit staircase to the bathroom, barely any light in the bathroom – thank god I didn’t need to apply lipstick or it may’ve ended up all over my face!


The menu is extremely flash, poncey food (as you’d expect me to say) – venison, duck, lamb with strange things, oysters, scallops, tasting plates etc but they did have a goats cheese cappalletti with baby roasted beets which I had, and it was delicious.


Everyone else had the poncey stuff and reported that it was fantastic. Cousin Grant commended us on our choice of restaurant which I thought was high praise coming from a New Yorker working in the financial scene who eats out a lot! The service was excellent and attentive and almost invisible with black clad wait staff reaching through the black string curtains around the table to deposit food or whisk away plates! The atmosphere was good too – a little quiet and exclusive when we first got there (7.30) but filled up quickly and wasn’t too noisy. All tables were round and seemed to be set for 4 or more although I’m sure they’d set the edge tables for 2 if need be.

It was great to catch up with Cousin Grant again although a little weird to see him out of New York.


Clooney, 33 Sale Street, Freemans Bay, Auckland 1010