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SF Challenge Days 3 & 4

Day three of our San Francisco restaurant challenge (read day one here and day two here) started with a drive across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley to meet my mother-in-law for lunch and a little shopping on 4th Street. She was delivering our youngest son to us who was going to spend that Friday night with us to see the Fleet Week air show the next day.

We had eaten at Zut! several times and Spenger’s many times, both on 4th Street, so we wandered around and settled on a cute taqueria called Tucubaya, la taqueria de Dona Tomas. http://tacubaya.net/ . Dona Tomas restaurant is located in Oakland, and this is the sister restaurant in Berkeley.

The tortilla soup from Tacubaya in Berkeley.

We fell in love with the homey atmosphere. It’s a mix between Taqueria Guadalajara in South Davis (nothing like the Covell Blvd. location) and Dos Coyotes. It was colorful with wooden tables and chairs. You order at the counter and they deliver the food to you. There is a bar at the open kitchen where you can eat while watching the cooks prepare the food including the handmade tortillas.

I asked the girl behind the counter what their specialties were. She said that everything was good, but that you could get tacos anywhere, and that their main dishes are what make them special. I ordered a bowl of chips and guacamole and the tortilla soup and Jon ordered the chilaquilles. The generous portion of guacamole comes in a big wooden bowl covered with chips. It was delicious and large enough that we couldn’t finish it with our entrées.

Tacubaya's chilaquiles.

Jon’s chilaquiles were gorgeous, with the chips, cheese and sauce on the bottom and fluffy scrambled eggs piled on top. But, the real find of the day was the tortilla soup. I love tortilla soup and make it often for my family. I make it in the style that we all fell in love with in Cabo San Lucas — A dark broth with a little heat from the dried chiles that are softened and blended into the chicken stock then piled with shredded chicken, cubed queso fresco, avocado chunks, sour cream, a squeeze of fresh lime and fried corn tortilla strips. We love it! Wherever we go, we can’t find one like the one in Cabo or the soup I make until Tacubaya. The tortilla soup in Centro Cocina has a thick broth. They must blend tortillas into their broth, and it doesn’t have the same toppings. Chevy’s has great toppings and crisp fresh corn kernels, but the broth is too light and tastes like plain chicken stock. Bandera used to have a delicious tortilla soup years ago, but it was taken off of the menu.

Tacubaya’s tortilla soup is served in a large bowl with the perfectly spiced dark broth. They then add shredded chicken, a large chunk of queso fresco that melts in the hot broth, avocado chunks, spinach leaves and crumbled fried tortillas. We ask for fresh lime and sour cream on the side since they don’t provide those. It’s fantastic and so filling. It was love at first bite and I was happy to know that I had found a place to enjoy great tortilla soup without having to go to Cabo or make it myself.

Prospect Restaurant in San Francisco.

At the recommendation of friend and Davisite Kim Merrell Lamb, we made dinner reservations that evening at the new restaurant Prospect in the SOMA district. I knew that if Kim recommended it, the space would be gorgeous with a fun energy, and it was. It has a corner location and we could watch Giant’s fans heading to the game. The interior was modern with lots of floor-to-ceiling glass, a great bar and beautiful lighting. The service was great, the cocktails innovative and the food was fresh and healthy for the most part. It was definitely fancy food – smaller portions presented beautifully, with fresh clean flavors. I had fish, Jon had pork. There isn’t a big menu selection – there are only eight entrees on the menu and the prices range from $24-$42. I’m a strong believer on filling a menu with only superb food items and if you only do eight things superbly and you don’t want to fill it with sub-par food, then good for you. However, neither Jon or I felt that the food was superb, so we would have liked more choices.

The fresh berries and caramel popcorn from Prospect Restaurant.

For dessert we shared fresh berries served with crème fraiche and muscovado brown sugar and caramel popcorn while Logan ate the Black and Tan, which is butter-bourbon pudding with a bittersweet brownie, billionaire’s shortbread and chocolate sorbet. We ate the small dollops of the butter-bourbon pudding for Logan who wasn’t interested, and wished that they served large parfait glasses full of it. It was great!

So, Prospect rated just like Murray Circle at Cavallo Point from day two – we had a great time, great atmosphere, but the food wouldn’t bring us back. We were glad though that we had experienced both due to the lovely spaces they inhabit.

On day four, I was surprised by my older boys, my daughter-in-law, my mother-in-law and my middle son’s girlfriend. Jon had asked them to drive up to surprise me so that we could all watch the air show together. It was a wonderful surprise and made food take a backseat that day. We grabbed a quick breakfast at an Italian restaurant across the street from our hotel, then stopped at a market and bought meat, cheeses, chips, fruit, salads and a baguette and headed to the beach to watch the show.

At the end of day four, we cheated and broke our own rule. We stopped in Berkeley at Tacubaya for the tortilla soup again. I wanted to test it out on the rest of the family. It passed and they’re now addicted as well. In fact, I’ve been to Tacubaya four times in a month and have returned to Fog City Diner from day one in the past month as well.

It was a fun restaurant challenge. We really enjoyed trying new places and not relying on our old stand-by’s, but we did miss some of our favorites.

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