Possibly the jewel of San Fransisco and the eighth wonder of the world: Tartine’s banana cream pie. It consists of a flaky pastry case so buttery that it’s sort of like a hard croissant, the case is then coated in dark chocolate and filled with caramel, bananas, pastry cream and whipped cream, with giant chocolate flakes on the top. Despite its huge size, I finished this baby. In fact, it was so delicious looking that a fellow Australian traveller asked to share my table (it was very crowded) and an older US woman on the next table declared that she had ‘pastry envy’!
While this is normally a blog on North Melbourne, this week I’ve jetted off to California for a week’s holiday. San Francisco and North Melbourne actually have a fair few parallels. For starters, they are both overflowing with hipsters and really great places to eat. It’s a much more international city than many others in the USA. Of course there is amazing Mexican food (we ate at a fab vegan Mexican place in the Mission on my first night here called Gracias Madre), but there’s also authentic Thai, super cheap and delicious Indian, all you can eat brunch from the Deep South and just about everything in between. They also have trams (or ‘cable cars’) here, though the system is much more limited than in Melbourne. The weather is currently sunny and gorgeous, but normally it’s pretty changeable here, like Melbourne. Plus the politics in San Fran are probably the closest to the inner city small ‘L’ liberalism you find in North Melbourne. Sadly though, the coffee isn’t really on par, with only a few places offering coffee which meets the strict standards of my coffee-snob partner.
Yesterday though I headed out of San Fran to Palo Alto. It’s a cute little town based around Stanford University. It’s sunny around 80 percent of the time there apparently and there’s definitely a clean affluent feel to it, with the student population from the University giving it just enough edge to make it a pretty cool little place.
We got the Caltrain to Palo Alto, which, by the way, seems to be pronounced something like ‘Paul-o All-toe’ by the locals, a pronunciation I still can’t get right. We hit the main drag, which is called, rather unimaginatively, University Ave.
My partner, having been here a few times before, suggested Orens Hummus for lunch. Being a life-long vegetarian basically guarantees you’re a hummus fan I think. And that’s what they do, hummus. Hummus with just about everything. Technically they call themselves Israeli cuisine, but it’s a sort of middle eastern mix of options on the menu, plus a few Americanised items.
I ordered The Hummus Triangle, which was a serve of their classic hummus, plus spicy garbanzo beans (chickpeas), fava beans and tahini. My partner had the Hummus Beef, which is what it sounds like – a whole lotta hummus and a whole lotta spicy beef.
Both dishes come with a never ending supply of homemade white and wholemeal pita bread. That’s one very American thing I think, everything either comes in a giant portion or with free refills. Drinks are free to refill, bread is free to refill and at the movies, popcorn is free to refill. The meals are so huge, I don’t think I’ve actually finished one yet. On the first night, at the end of the meal the waitress looked at our half eaten plates and said ‘Can I get you a box?’. I looked at her a little strangely before remembering that, unlike in Melbourne, it’s perfectly ok to take-away your meal from a restaurant and eat it the next day. I think a lot of people do, making dinner their lunch at work the next day and saving a few dollars in the process. That’s the other thing – menu items appear quite cheap compared to Australia, but once you add in the taxes and a decent tip, I think San Fran dining is about on par with prices in Melbourne.Anyway, back to the hummus. The hummus itself was pretty good – it was rich, creamy and there was a lot of it! It didn’t have as much flavour as I would like, but the pita bread that went with it was so fluffy and delicious that that made up for it. My only disappointment really is that I thought fava beans were what Americans called broad beans. Subsequent googling (because I’m pedantic like that) suggests I’m right. What I got on top of my hummus, however, was kidney beans. They were ok, but you know, not those big fat lemon-y baby broad beans I was hoping for. Overall though, Orens Hummus was a hit for me. I actually think there is a market for that kind of place in Melbourne. I actually think I’d like to open one myself…
Following hummus, it being me, dessert was required. For this we headed straight to Cream. It was recommended to me by my sister, who lived and studied in Berkeley for a semester. Cream has an outlet there and recently opened up one in Palo Alto. They do one thing. Ice-cream sandwiches. Very big ones!
The line for Cream was about 40 people deep, out the store and along the footpath past two other stores. I’m not sure if it is always like that, since it was a warm day, but I can understand why it’s so popular. For just $2.99 ($2.50 if you pay cash) you can choose two cookies (two different flavours if you like) and a scoop of icecream and have them sandwiched together in front of your very eyes. Like dessert magic!
The cookie flavours included classics like chocolate chip and oatmeal as well as more unusual ones like ‘Turtle’ which was chocolate, caramel and peanuts, Snickerdoodle (cinnamon) and Cappuccino. The icecream flavours were similarly variable, including decadent sounding things like banana walnut fudge, chocolate chip cookie dough (in case you didn’t have enough cookie in your sandwich!?), royal caramel swirl and strawberry cheesecake. It being California they also had vegan options such as vegan chocolate cookies with soy mint chocolate chip icecream.
I opted for one chocolate chip cookie and one Turtle cookie with salted caramel icecream. The cookies are still a little warm and soft in the middle, which makes them extra good. The sandwich is created in a wedge shape, to make it easier to hold and then squeezed into a small paper bag to make it easier to eat in bites. The cookies were excellent, especially the chocolate chip one which had lots of milk chocolate chunks that were still warm and gooey. The salted caramel icecream was a little disappointing, in that it wasn’t very salty or caramelly and just tasted like sweet creaminess. Wedged between two delicious cookies though, it was more than acceptable and I polished off that thing in record time.