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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Talking San Francisco Restaurants With Bon Appetit's Resident Foodist Andrew Knowlton

Posted By on Thu, Nov 6, 2014 at 8:00 AM

Bon Appetit's Andrew Knowlton - KAUFMAN AROK
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It sounds like a dream job for many of us, but Bon Appetit's restaurants and drinks editor and resident "Foodist" Andrew Knowlton really does travel around the country eating, drinking, and discovering the most exciting chefs and restaurants. Remember State Bird Provisions before the enormous nightly lines? Yep, he's the guy who crowned them the magazine's Best New Restaurant in 2012. Even reservation bots have trouble getting a table there two years later.

Knowlton will be in San Francisco this weekend for Bon Appetit's two Grub Crawls full of stacked walking and eating itineraries, again proving why are city is second to none in not just baseball teams, but dining out, too.

[Ed: The interview has been shortened and edited for length and clarity.]

SFoodie: First of all, we here in San Francisco love to think we are the best food city in the country, aren’t we correct?
Andrew Knowlton: That’s a trick question, isn’t it? I think there is probably not a better city that has access to the ingredients and the produce that San Francisco has. I think sometimes New York has good produce or other parts of the country and then I go to San Francisco and your head explodes just from going to the farmers markets. When you consider the talent level of cooking that is going on in San Francisco, the produce and just the physical beauty of the city — that is a trifecta that San Francisco really accelerates at. And you guys have good Mexican food; we don’t have good Mexican food in New York.

Any particular favorite places or memories about dining here?
I know it’s cliché but every single time I go to San Francisco, I don’t care if I am there for 12 hours or a week, I always go and eat lunch at Zuni. I don’t even get the roast chicken usually anymore. I love the anchovy and celery salad, I think the Caesar salad is the greatest thing, and then whatever pizza they are doing. Then I usually just get a bottle of rosé by myself and drink that and then wander off into craziness on Market. And then Swan Oyster Depot. I don’t really wait in lines. But I will wait in line for that place. Hopefully it’s Dungeness crab season, so you can get Dungeness crab and then order the scallops that they just kind of slice sashimi style with a little bit of lemon, salt, and olive oil. And those guys are total pros, making you feel welcome and the next thing you know they are giving you shots of tequila from that little barrel that they have up there.

Besides the spots on the two Grub Crawls, I assume you are going to be going to some new places on this trip … anybody on your radar already?
I definitely want to check out Monsieur Benjamin. The Progress, Stuart and Nicole’s [State Bird Provisions] new place but I don’t know if they are going to be open [ed note: they won’t be open]. I know that Traci des Jardins opened The Commissary … but I am actually flying out just for Grub Crawl because my daughter’s birthday is the next day. So this is going to be a short trip. I guess I have already been to all these restaurants that are on the Grub Crawl list this year so that is good.

Yeah, both Grub Crawls have good lists. And some local favorites too that don’t get national press like Nojo and Two Sisters.
Yeah, first of all for the crawls you have to pick the area wisely because San Francisco is a walking town to some extent but a lot of cities we go to are not. That comes into effect, but I knew we wanted to do Hayes Valley initially and be appealing to people coming from out of town. But we also have to appeal to the locals too and we are not just trying to go off a PR list about what is cool and what is hot. It is also about those kinds of unique experiences in bringing the neighborhood into it a little bit more, showing the neighborhood, so I think that is why you have Two Sisters and I personally love Souvla.

So you said you lacked the Mexican food there in New York, what are we really missing out here because everybody always points to delis, but we do have Wise Sons…
You do have Wise Sons but I guess maybe a consistent pizza. You do have Una Pizza Napoletana and Pizzeria Delfina. I know some good late night spots in San Francisco but I feel sometimes like New York has the corner on late nights, not just ethnic food but just kind of late night 24 hour places. But it’s like two fighters, you guys might have a better jab and then we have an upper cut then you are a little quicker on your feet. I don’t even get too concerned about the East Coast/West Coast … they’re both working to keep up with the South now. We are both expensive though, I will tell you that much. And I will say that one thing that I truly believe and I am not going to make friends by saying this, that San Francisco’s cocktail scene is better than ours in New York.

I thought you were going to say it’s the other way around.
No, New York is a classic cocktails town which I do like, but I feel like San Francisco has more going on when it comes to creativity and kind of making the trends. We discovered Fernet Branca five years after everyone in San Francisco was drunk off that stuff. And I just feel like every time I go to San Francisco the bars are cool and they are trying new things. We have great bars in New York but I love going out and drinking in San Francisco.

And being San Francisco, we’re home to all of those new apps and technologies changing the dining experience for better or worse.
I can’t make a judgment. I am 40 years old, so I use them sometimes. But I am a little bit weary of them, I would say. When I travel the country four months of the year, I usually pick up the phone and make a reservation just because I find the online process to be frustrating and not all the tables are available. I have no problem paying in advance for a menu, just like I am buying tickets to a sporting event. I do have a problem with a table on Friday night at eight o'clock going to the highest bidder, because then you are just going to have a problem where somebody would want to go out to spend $500, and so the rich get richer and I have a problem with that. I think it is fascinating, but I don’t ever want anybody to ever give me a tablet to order my meal. I’ll walk out of a restaurant before I do that. 

I know The French Laundry has an iPad wine list.
Do they? I don’t know, I spend too much time on that stuff as is, and when I go out to eat I want that old world experience of somebody pouring my drink. It is just like if somebody started having robots in bars, like what’s the point of that? That is the only way you can get me to stop drinking — that there are robot bartenders. 

Join Andrew this weekend for Bon Appetit's Grub Crawl with an afternoon in Hayes Valley and evening in the Mission. For more information and tickets, visit the Grub Crawl website.

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Trevor Felch

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