Tour San Francisco: The Volcano Bowl Shanghai Surprise

When we were in Seoul, we made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to eat at Brew 3.14, a pizza, craft beer, and wine spot. I dunno, the place just really appealed to me from afar; I wanted to try artisanal pizza in Seoul, but more importantly, I knew our trip would be a beer and magkeolli guzzle fest, thus creating a craving for wine and non-Korean fare at some point, something fierce. Our third attempt (no kidding) was successful, and while there was some staffing douchebaggery going on at the time, Jae-Min arrived suddenly, a friendly face with a great attitude, to save the day.

We only interacted for maybe an hour, but Jae-Min was a like-minded fellow, planning a trip to the east coast with which I wanted to lend a food advising hand. We Facebook friended, said our adieus, and one year later, Jae-Min arrived like a Korean breath of fresh air, adorable and ready to tour, at SFO. Prior to his visit, I tried to suss out what kind of traveler he was exactly; what he would be interested in doing in San Francisco. His response was that he sought to avoid tourists spots; his main goal being the consumption of our best local food, wine, and beer. Yahtzee.

First stop, the Old Ship Saloon. IMG_1556

The Old Ship boasts an insanely cool history. Its genesis dates all the way back to the 1850’s, otherwise known in these parts as the gold rush, when The USS Arakansas sailed into San Francisco Bay, was promptly abandoned by its gold thirsty crew, after which a storm blew it ashore onto Alcatraz island. The Arkansas was then towed across the bay to what was then known as the Barbary Coast in San Francisco, where a young and enterprising Jospeph Anthony cut a hole in the side from which to sell booze, his motto being “spirits sold here, gud, bad, or ind’fernt.” The Barbary Coast was a bawdy place overflowing with prostitutes, murderers, gamblers, and degenerates; a place the police were afraid to enter. The Arkansas was a fixture in those rowdy days, a place sailors would enter in good spirits, only to find themselves drugged, knocked unconscious, and sold to ship capatins en route to Shanghai, a handy trick that would theretofore be referred to as “shanghaiing.”

Full disclosure, my husband, Jake, cooks there. Full disclosure part two, if my husband, Jake, sucked at cooking, I would not eat his food. Sugar coating is not exactly my strong suit, particularly when it comes to him, and the truth is, I love me an excuse to go eat at the Ship. The salads make me weak in the knees, but, the burgers are the real deal, the reason the ship has a line of financial district suit-wearing, pub-fare enthusiasts out the door every day (for the record, vegetarians have plenty of options).

I insisted that we start with wings, my Achilles heel.


The Old Ship wings are their own particular version of fabulous, being grilled and not fried or baked, doused in a Franks based sauce (wing sauce of the gods), drizzled with ranch, and sprinkled with herbs. Seriously, I would tell Jake his wings sucked and then kick him in the balls to drive the point home if they did, but they are truly among my top five in the city.

The burger menu runs about seven deep, my favorite of which is The MacSheppard (Sheppard being the last captain to ever commandier the Arkansas), a riff on the Big Mac. However, I let Jae-Min choose on this day, which in retrospect was stupid, because I could have guided him to the best, most sloppy, of delicious burgers, but, he chose the Bricks burger, which up to that point, I had never had before.


The Bricks was solid, perfectly cooked, well seasoned, all that, but I would not have it again. Too preppy for my needs. If I am going to burger, I want a full fat, special sauce, assault. I do adore those hand cut parmesan truffle fries though, a real PMS dream. The menu at the Ship changes frequently, and on that day, there was a seafood mac n’ cheese on offer that I had never seen before. They split our order of it into two cups, gooey and saucy, liberally filled with chunks of tombo tuna and gulf crab, garnished with chopped herbs.


I hope to have it again before it disappears from the rotation.

Next up, a stop next door at Globe, an Italian spot that is probably best known for being open late night, schilling out pizzas alongside more refined fare. The Ship crew drinks there, and if we were going to show Jae-Min our life, the Globe was an essential stop. The bar is a limited deal, maybe eight seats, but, at 3:00 on a Friday, not a problem.


Jae-Min had his first Fernet Branca there, an old school (1845) digestif made re-popular by San Francisco hipsters; a stanky, medicinal, liquor, an impressive combination of 27 wince inducing herbs, produced in Italy; and yet, San Francisco consumes more of the stuff than anywhere else on earth. I mean, look at this fab drawing, which embodies all that one feels about the oily black stuff (art cred to Peter Lawrence Kane of the now defunct but once super cool Bold Italic)

Fernet ad

Jae-Min was a total sport, grinning happily after his first sniff, downing it swiftly, blowing a quick burst of air through pursed lips, finished by one proclamation, “wow,” once it was down the chute.


So down, that Jae-Min.

We walked a couple of blocks to a place I hadn’t known existed, and at the moment of this posting, it probably doesn’t, which is a real shame. Barrique Wine Bar. IMG_1559 That part of San Francicso, the Barbary Coast/Embarcadero area, is full of repurposed brick warehouses, one of which, housed Barrique. They were not a winery, rather a wine maker that sourced grapes from local wineries from which they made their own blends. Their lease had just come up for renewal and, like so many tenants in San Francicso, they were shocked by an unmanagable increase, effectively forcing them out of their space. I had been trying to explain the absolutely insane real estate situation in SF to Jae-Min on the drive up, and there it was, in living color. A shame to lose them, and so many others suffering the same fate.


Jake and I have this thing, this need, to expose visitors to San Francisco to the Scorpion and/or Volcano bowl. Such a libation just does not exist the world over, let alone in many parts of the U.S. I would have loved to take him to Tradition, where they craft a mean tiki bowl (and a mean cocktail of any kind for that matter) or the Tonga room for kitsch, but Jake insisted on a visit to the Bamboo Hut to visit a new acquaintance who bartends there. I was skeptical, but, the BH was within walking distance, and if it sucked we could have one and done.


OMG seriously? The Bamboo Hut!!!! That place was unbelievably badass. Super tiki, with the thatch roof and all, nice and roomy, with an enormous chalkboard menu offering a ton of tropical options and otherwise. The cherry on top? the most fabulous 80’s soundtrack. EVER.

IMG_1573 That would be the Volcano being poured into its fiery bowl:


And that would be the pure joy of anticipation


Oh no wait. This would: IMG_1578

Some say the volcano bowl is a lesson in germ sharing, but let’s not get hysterical, there is so much alcohol at the end of those straws, ebola could not survive.


In need of some carbs and grease to help soak up that flaming bowl o’ booze, we headed to Tommaso’s, our go to spot for vittles on that end of North Beach.


Tommaso’s is a North Beach institution, complete with gruff but sweet staff, plastic grapes (I may have just made that up), and if you get there past 5:30 or so, a healthy wait. I was once berated by an older employee (owner?), after I complained about them seating parties that arrived after us, before us. Our server apologized profusely, asked us if we wanted to order another bottle of wine at the end of our meal (we did), then comped our entire bill. We were sold on Tommaso’s for life then, because THAT is how you handle a justifiably unhappy customer. No ill will towards the dude who snapped. Shit happens.

We always get the chilled broccoli, a pizza, and a carafe (or bottle, or three bottles) of wine, and every now and again, we add the Tommaso’s clams, a delicious mess of clams and mushrooms mounded upon thick hunks of toast.

tomassos table

This part just charms the pants off of me. When your pizza arrives at Tomassos, this dude shows up and dishes it out piece by piece. Who could resist that? Who I ask?

tomassos server

Tommaso’s pizza is a no-frills, no-nonsense, straight up pie; not thin and blistery, not thick and gooey, just the right ratio of crust to sauce to cheese to toppings.

Jae-Min retired to Garagskis then, Randi and Mikey’s insanely amazing garage bar, built entirely by Mikey’s very own giant gorilla hands


for a two man 80’s dance party with Randi. Jake and I, we took to bed, gearing up to tour the shit of that sweet Korean man the following day.

The Old Ship Saloon
Old Ship Saloon on Urbanspoon

The Bamboo Hut
Bamboo Hut on Urbanspoon


Tommaso's on Urbanspoon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s