Archive for the ‘San Francisco’ Category

Cluck Yeah! Two New Downtown San Francisco Fried Chicken Sandwiches!

New Fried Chicken Sandwich at The Bird
The Bird’s fried chicken sandwich offers a juicy, succulent piece of fried chicken complimented by a slightly sweet apple based slaw on a brioche bun.

New Fried Chicken Sandwich at Organic Coup
Organic Coup’s fried chicken sandwich offers a slightly larger piece of chicken with a tangy and spicy slaw with jalapeno on an equally tasty bun.

Downtown San Franciscans were treated to not one but two new fried chicken sandwiches this week in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District. Two new restaurants, Organic Coup and The Bird are both located a mere 2 blocks off of Market Street. Organic Coup North of Market at 224 Kearny and The Bird South of Market located at 115 Montgomery.

The Bird is open Monday through Saturday from 11am to 10pm.

Organic Coup is open 11am to 3pm Monday through Friday for lunch.

Since who the cluck doesn’t like fried chicken sandwiches, I tried both this week and thought I’d write a few thoughts on each of these fine new chicken coops. My co-worker Sam Greene joined me (because birds of feather stick together) and I’ve added his thoughts on each section of this review.

Let the great San Francisco Cluck Off begin!

Organically Cocky at the Organic Coup
Organically Cocky at the Organic Coup.

The Bird, Fried Chx Sandwiches 200 Daily, #Cluck Yeah
The Bird, Fried Chx Sandwiches, 200 Daily #CluckYeah.

Waiting for a new fried chicken sandwich at The Bird
50 Deep in line at The Bird. Get there early and plan on a wait.

Ordering. (Winner: tie)

Although it’s probably not fair to compare the foot traffic at both of these restaurants on opening week, plan on spending a lot more time waiting for your chicken sandwich at The Bird than Organic Coup.

I arrived to a line already 50 deep at 11:10 am Friday at The Bird. The wait was approximately half an hour from start to finish. By contrast you get in and out of Organic Coup much faster. I went to Organic Coup on Wednesday and Thursday at 11:10am and there was no line. On Friday I went to Organic Coup after the Bird at around 11:45am and the wait still was only about 4 people for about 5 minutes.

Organic Coup had a very efficient ordering system. An order taker walks you through your order on an iPad. You make your designation side by side and then when you swipe your credit card the system automatically pulls your name and then uses your name to call you when your order is ready. The Bird offers a more formal across the counter cash register based system where they print out a receipt for you to sign. They do capture your name from your card as well though and use it to call your order.

Organic Coup has a sign up by the order taker that says no cash / no tipping. On their website they say that they are committed to paying their workers a livable wage and say that they “pay the highest wages in the industry.” With tax their sandwich is $11.

By contrast the Bird has you either write in or decline a tip on your credit card receipt when you sign. Their sandwich is cheaper at $9 with tax no tip.

I will write more on the whole tip no tip thing below, but I will say I liked the fact that Organic Coup doesn’t allow cash. Cash tends to slow things down and pretty much everybody has a credit or debit card these days.

I would clearly give the win to Organic Coup here based on the faster service, except for the fact that The Bird had a server come outside to the line and give everyone in the line a free sample of their clucking amazing ice cream sandwich, one of the best I’ve ever tried. Not only did they hand out free samples to the line, the guy handing out the samples came by afterwards to take everyone’s trash from the sample that was handed out. Such thoughtfulness and such an amazing treat made the line totally worth it. That was very smart. So the verdict here is a tie but both were pretty clucking great.

SAM’S TAKE:

Ordering (winner: Organic Coup)

I’m a big believer in the holistic evaluation process so it is hard for me to say which restaurant offers an absolutely better ordering system. I would start by saying the ordering systems are different. The Organic Coup offers a clucking-efficient iPad based self-service ordering system while The Bird offers the more traditional cash-transaction at the register system. I personally like the iPad self-service system much better for a few reasons. For starters, the pressure of having to field a barrage of questions at the counter is completely removed with the iPads. Additionally, what’s nice about ordering on the iPad is that it gives me a little more time to consider what options are available before making my selection. This way you don’t have to fumble over your words dictating your order to the cashier while you’re looking at the menu. Sure, it may be a bit awkward and anti-social to prefer the iPad system, but the reality is that ordering through the iPad is much easier and simpler for all parties involved and saves everybody a little bit of time.

However, since the fried chicken sandwich itself is a bit simpler at The Bird in that there is only a spicy and non-spicy option as opposed to an overwhelming assortment of sauces to add and choose from at the Organic Coup, I didn’t feel like the register-based system slowed down the ordering process significantly. Overall, I think the two are tied for the best ordering system. The Bird’s products don’t complicate ordering at the register, and Organic Coups iPad system nicely handles more complicated orders.

Cost (Winner: tie)

Sure the sandwich at Organic Coup is two clucks more, but the fact that there is no pressure to tip and apparently you can feel ok about not tipping because of the living wage thing, it sort of makes up for the extra cost. If you tip a buck at the Bird, the sandwich still comes in a dollar cheaper, but I’m sort of a fan of including gratuity in the price of a product which feels more like what Organic Coup is doing. It would be interesting to know how much each place pays their workers, but to me there’s not much difference between paying $11/no tip or $10 or $11 with manual tip.

Atmosphere (Winner: tie)

Both sandwich shops feel really nice although just a little crowded. Organic Coup feels a little more like a chain/corporate (and with multiple locations it sort of is) vs. the pop up feel of The Bird. The Bird (which is in the space that the old Melt use to use) has some seating which is nice if you want to eat your sandwich there. Seating is very limited, but at least they have some. I usually take my lunch to go though so seating didn’t matter to me. The Bird offers you a water cup which is nice. Organic Coup is more open and airy and light in my opinion — both are very nice and clean.

Both restaurants had people with menus outside greeting you. Both restaurants had friendly employees. Both restaurants were marketing with the San Francisco “Cluck Yeah” tag line sure to appeal to millennials everywhere. The Bird uses a hashtag based #CLUCKYEAH while Organic Coup chose to go with an exclamation point based CLUCK YEAH!

SAM’S TAKE:

Both shops were nice, clean and up to snuff. However, I feel like the Bird may have a slight edge in the overall atmosphere. Fist and foremost, the Bird has a larger space that is big enough to offer counters, seating, and complimentary water and bathrooms. Keep in mind though that around 11:00am when we went the place was hustling and bustling so it was difficult to find a place to stand and lean let alone sit and dine, so if you’re looking for a place to enjoy a leisurely meal I would look elsewhere. That being said, the fact that seating is available for less rushed and frenzied times during the day is a huge plus for me.

In contrast, the smaller, more cooped up space at the Organic Coup (no pun intended), did not feel large enough to adequately handle the 11:00am rush of lunch-goers who inevitably end up waiting on the sidewalk. Granted, the line at the The Bird wound around the block as well when we went — however, once all the hype dies down from the opening weeks for each location I think The Bird will be more attractive to a larger percentage of the lunch-going population since it does offer a place to sit. In light of all that, the smaller space offered by the Organic Coup is nice in that it sort of naturally moves folks along in and out of the building faster since nobody likes to stand around in claustrophobic, shoulder-to-shoulder, tight-knit spaces for long. If your intention is to grab your food and go, the Organic Coup is perfect. However, given the choice, I would rather have the option to sit and schmooze over a quick bite with a co-worker than feel rushed in and out of the place.

Secondly, the Bird felt like it actually had a personality. The interior design maintained what appeared to be the original look and architecture of the establishment that preceded The Bird. As a matter of personal preference, I thought it was nice that The Bird chose to maintain the integrity of style rather than give it a radical makeover to conform to the recognizable and modern look. There is an aura of traditional, classic fried chicken sandwich shop that emanates from the old-school single-letter-insert-menu hanging down from the ceiling. Overall The Bird presents itself as more of unique local, self-sufficient, one-of-a-kind joint while the Organic Coup is more of a modern and contemporary fast-food chain.

I have to hand this one to The Bird.

Nutrition (Winner: Organic Coup)

Organic Coup markets itself as America’s first USDA certified organic fast food restaurant. What’s more, they provide you with calorie nutritional information on their website. According to their website their Chicken Sandwich is 500 calories. For such a big fried sandwich I almost can not believe it is only 500 calories. They also offer a bowl, which is more like a fried chicken salad, with only 320 calories. For someone like me trying to maintain my sleek physique, those numbers are very reasonable and I appreciated that they shared them with me on their website.

The Bird does not provide nutritional information on their website. Based on the taste of their sandwich though (and the fact that it has mayo on it), I’d suspect it’s more than 500 calories.

SAM’S TAKE:

I have to agree with the Hawk here. I think it’s clucking-smart that the Organic Coup makes an effort to disclose nutritional facts on its website to its frequenters. In the age of the IoT, information is data and data is power to the consumer. As a consumer, I feel clucking-empowered by nutritional information in what I’m choosing to buy and eat, even though the information may not necessarily ultimately drive my decision. For example, I may find that the Organic Coup is less calories than The Bird, but I may still like the bird better since it has those incredible pickles. Merely the fact that Organic Coup openly shares with us the nutritional facts so transparently makes me more trusting of them as a restaurant regardless of whether or not their sandwich is any healthier, less caloric or has overall more nutritional value than The Birds. Props to Organic Coup on this one.

The Sandwich (Winner: The Bird, by a beak)

First off, I have to say I liked both sandwiches. I will definitely be back to both in the future.

Organic Coup’s sandwich reminded me very much of one of my favorite East Bay secrets, the fried chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty’s in Oakland only on a tasty bun instead of a roll. Organic Coup uses a vinegar based slaw with jalapenos in it just like Betty does. This is also the base for the slab of fried chicken that they serve with their bowl (which is more like a fried chicken slaw salad) and it is clucking delicious. You get a choice of four sauces for your bowl/wrap/sandwich. I got my sandwich with the vegan mustard vinaigrette sauce. The sauce was good but the irony that they were marketing my choice of sauce as “vegan” when I was eating a fried chicken sandwich was not lost on me. The spicy BBQ sauce seemed the most popular.

Organic Coup’s piece of friend chicken felt a little bit bigger to me than The Bird’s and hangs out of both sides of the sandwich.

As much as I enjoyed Organic Coup’s sandwich, The Bird edged it out here by a beak. Given the mayonnaise on the sandwich it definitely made it taste a bit richer. More than the mayonnaise though the chicken itself was more tender, flavorful and succulent. The Bird’s bird was a juicy, flavorful, delicious piece of mouthwatering bliss. The Bird’s sandwich had less slaw than Organic Coup’s but the slaw itself was a cabbage-onion-apple based slaw which gave it just the slight amount of sweetness that went perfectly with the spicy flavor. It also had Super Duper pickles on it which added a nice finishing touch.

The Bird had two versions of their signature sandwich, spicy and non-spicy. I of course opted for spicy and I’m glad I did.

SAM’S TAKE:

The Sandwich (The Bird, it was beak-and-beak the whole way through)

Both places offer un-clucking-believable fried chicken sandwiches. Both offer great, high-quality sandwiches sure to satisfy any afternoon deep-fried craving San Franciscan dropping by for quick bite to eat. The Bird differentiates itself from the Organic Coup in a few notable ways. While both offer delicious crunchy deep fried gustatory experiences, The Bird seems to let their birds simmer a bit longer in the pan allowing a thicker, deeper-fried coat to form. The deeper-fried coat made it all the more delicious and rich, though perhaps slightly less healthy. Additionally, the sandwich served at the Bird championed an artfully infused African Berber spice in the batter that was a flavorful and interesting homage to the origins of the fried chicken sandwich.

The coleslaw prepared at the Organic Coup offered more intense, spicier coleslaw than The Bird though. It beautifully complimented the spicy BBQ sauce served with the sandwich that I had chosen. Additionally, the Organic Coup offered a much larger chunk of chicken than The Bird which made me feel like I was getting better value for the two extra clucks I paid.

However, although Organic Coup made an eggs-ellent final product, the bird at the The Bird was slightly more succulent and juicy than at The Organic Coup. I’m pretty sure there was an element of marketing responsible for this perception though. Since I knew in advance that the Bird only made 200 sandwiches a day for the lunch crowd I think I was primed to believe they put more TLC, attention and energy into making each sandwich perfect than the Organic Coup. Upon deeper reflection, however, I do not think the modern fast-food nature of the Organic Coup takes away from the quality of their artfully though more industrially crafted sandwiches. It was just an observation I made when writing this review. I simply think I got a bit luckier at the Bird at the time I went in regards to the juiciness factor of the chicken. All in all, The Bird stood out to me as overall slightly tastier due to the tenderness of the meat and the deliciousness of the deep-fry recipe despite its shortcoming in size compared to the Organic Coup.

The Logo (Winner: The Bird)

Very hipster San Francisco looking fox with a chicken sandwich in his mouth, would also look good on a Bon Iver album cover.

I didn’t really get into the extras beyond the fried chicken sandwiches in this review, but it is also worth pointing out that The Bird sells beer which may be a plus for some while by contrast Organic Coup offers fresh squeezed lemonade. I have a general rule that I don’t consume alcohol before 6pm so I can’t imagine having a beer at lunch, but for more thirstier friends that might be a good option to know about.

The bottom line is both of these new fried chicken sandwiches are abso-clucking-lutely delicious. So the next time you and your cluck buddy get a craving for some fried chicken sandwich for lunch try one of these two hen houses. You won’t be disappointed and you might even get a free sample of some ice cream sandwich to go with it.

Cluck Yeah!
Cluck Yeah with an exclamation mark instead of the hashtag.

No Cash, No Tips
No Cash and No Tipping at the Organic Coup.

Organic Looks Good on You
Organic Looks Good on You at the Organic Coup.

Lemonade at the Bird
Fresh Squeezed Lemonade at Organic Coup.

The Organic Coup
Standing outside Organic Coup on Kearny Street.

The Bird, Fried Chx, Beer
Interior shot of The Bird.

Come Photowalk in the Biggest Photowalk In History with My Pals Trey Ratcliff and Robert Scoble — We’re Giving Away Google Glass!

New Videocast Photo Talk Plus Premiers Live Tonight at 8PM PST

Next Tuesday evening, May 14th at 5:30pm, my good pals Trey Ratcliff, Robert Scoble and the awesome team at Google+ Photos will be joining me for an historic and truly epic photowalk in San Francisco. We think it will probably be the largest photowalk ever held in the history of photowalking — already almost 600 people have signed up! We will start the walk in Yerba Buena Gardens in downtown San Francisco.

Most exciting, one of our lucky photowalkers will win Google Glass. That’s right, a winner will be selected randomly — you must pre-register for the walk here and must be present at the end of the photowalk in person to win. We will go over the rules and details on how to win the Glass at the photowalk.

This is a free event open to everyone regardless of skill, experience, camera type, etc. Bring your Holga/Diana or your Canon 5D Mark III or your Rebel or your Android phone — or even that other phone that I can’t ever remember the name of 😉

We will be announcing more details between now and the event, but you won’t want to miss this fantastic San Francisco event. We will have a great afterparty too where we can all geek out about photography.

See you there!

Top 10 Places for Photography in San Francisco

Photowalking 7Golden Gate Bridge at Dusk, Dedicated to My Good Friend Robert ScobleSkinSelf Portrait, August 24, 2005

One of the most common emails I get from readers is an email letting me know that they are coming to visit San Francisco and asking what I’d recommend that a visitor shoot while here on their trip.

With that in mind, I thought I’d put together a post today of what I feel are the top 10 not to be missed photographic sites to shoot while you visit.

To dig deeper into some of the things to shoot in the San Francisco Bay Area I’ve set up two collections on Flickr.

The first collection is called Bay Area Photographic Destinations and includes 74 different shooting sites that you might want to consider on your visit.

The second collection is called The Micro Neighborhoods of the San Francisco Bay Area and covers 40 neighborhoods in the Bay Area that you might want to explore further.

I’ve highlighted different views of the points of interest with links so that you can get a better idea what I’m talking about. Most images are geotagged so you should be able to find them pretty easily. If you can’t find a site for whatever reason, shoot me an email or comment and I’ll try to point you in the right direction.

So on with the list.

#1 The Golden Gate Bridge. This probably goes without saying, but the Golden Gate Bridge is probably the most photographed tourist spot in San Francico. That said, even as a local, I am constantly amazed at the shots I am able to get of the Bridge with each subsequent visit. There are four primary places that you should consider shooting the bridge from. The first one is simply to shoot on the bridge itself. I’d recommend both walking and having someone else drive while you shoot across the bridge. The three other spots I’d recommend shooting the bridge from are Fort Point (just under the bridge to the East), Baker Beach (a great beach West of the Bridge), and the Marin Headlines (many vista points just northwest of the bridge). There is also a spot just south of the bridge where you can get out of your car and shoot straight on at the bridge.

#2 Alcatraz. Not many things are more fun to shoot than abandoned old prisons. The best tip here is to reserve your ferry trip out to Alcatraz *early*. You will not be able to reserve a ride if you try and make your reservation when you are already here for your visit. Also I’d recommend making a reservation for a mid to late afternoon visit. This will give you an opportunity to shoot the prison during the day and after dark. The prison feels even spookier after dark and you can also get some great vista shots of San Francisco from the island (bring a tripod).

#3 Twin Peaks. At the top of Twin Peaks in San Francisco is one of the greatest vistas to shoot in the world. You can see the entire city of San Francisco as well as the Bay Bridge and Oakland. I find that this view is best shot at night. In addition to views of the City, City Hall, the Transamerica Building, downtown etc., there is an excellent far away view of the Golden Gate Bridge from this point as well as a great opportunity to shoot Sutro Tower.

#4 The Museums. The SF MOMA doesn’t allow photography in their galleries (shame on them) but you can still sneak photos here and there. The crown jewel for photographers in San Francisco though is the de Young. Although the de Young doesn’t allow tripods or backpacks (wear a photo vest), they do have an open policy towards photography. The other museum that you may want to visit is the Oakland Museum of California (currently under renovation so not 100% what it should be at present). You can take the BART over to the 12th Street BART station in Oakland and walk over to shoot the Oakland Museum of California. The Asian Art Museum allows photography as well and is a great shoot. There is also a great vintage arcade game musuem called Musee Mecanique in Fisherman’s Wharf.

#5 The Hotels. There are a number of hotels where you can get *great* overhead shots of San Francisco. Because hotels are fairly unrestrictive about who goes in and out, even if you are not a guest at a given hotel you can still gain access pretty easily to shoot.

The first hotel shot I recommend is from the catwalk atop the Mandarin Hotel. The Mandarin Hotel is the tallest hotel in San Francisco and there is the most amazing catwalk connecting it’s two towers on the top floor. You will catch a fantastic view of North Beach and the Transamerica Building from up there, especially at dusk.

The second hotel I’d recommend shooting from is the Financial District Hilton on Kearny. You’ll need to slip into the elevator with someone with a elevator key, but the views from the stairwell on the north side of the hotel are the best views of Coit Tower in the city.

The third hotel I’d recommend shooting from is the Fairmont Hotel which sits atop San Francisco’s Nob Hill. Take the elevator on the north west side of the hotel to the second floor from the top (the elevator won’t let you up to the Penthouse which is the Crown Room). Get off at the second from the top floor and make your way into the stairwell and use the employee service elevator to get to the top of the Crown Room (ignore the no trespassing signs). Usually it’s empty and you’ll have an amazing view atop the world all to yourself. I recommend shooting this pre and post sunrise.

The last hotel I’d recommend visiting is the Hyatt Grand Regency. Not only does this hotel have one of the most amazing modern interiors in the world of architecture, if you take the modernistic elevators up to as high a floor as you can you can sneak out the fire staircase on the east side of the hotel to get a spectacular view of the Bay and the Ferry Building. Make sure you prop this door open behind you as it locks and you’ll be stuck climbing down all the stairs if you don’t.

#5 Chinatown / North Beach. Chinatown and North Beach are comfortably close to each other by way of walking distances. Try walking up and down a few of the North to South streets in Chinatown (Grant, Stockton, Powell) to get some of the great neighborhood culture. After shooting Chinatown, make your way North to North Beach. There are some great night shots of the neon of the strip clubs on Broadway as well as great views in Washington Square Park of St. Peter and Paul church as well as beautiful views up at the top of Coit Tower.

#6 Haight Ashbury / Mission District. Not necessarily within walking distance, Haight Ashbury and The Mission are two of the best neighborhoods to shoot to see some of the best cultural sites in San Francisco. Both neighborhoods are rich with street art, graffiti and street murals and have lots of funky stores and art galleries where you can shoot the windows from the street. You’ll do best in the Haight sticking close to upper Haight Street itself. With regards to the Mission District I’d recommend shooting around Mission and 24th Streets. Especially pay attention to all of the little alleys shooting off of 24th Street and Mission itself. This is where you will find some of the best street art in San Francisco.

#7 City Hall. City Hall is one of the architectural high points of San Francisco. With unrestricted access to most of the floors of the building you can get several great vantage points to shoot the interior of the building. Bring a wide angle lens with you if you can. These shots work especially well there.

#8 The Ferry Building. Once a decrepited old rats maze of endless coridors of offices (if only I’d had more foresight back then to shoot them!), the San Francisco Ferry Building has transformed itself into a mecca for foodies. In it’s restoration it was also rebuilt to showcase the architectural beauty that it really is. Be sure and try to make your way up to the second floor and take the stairs just to the left of the grand staircase as you go up them. If you can act naturally enough like you work in the building you can squeak past the security guard and make your way up to a stunning interior walking bridge where you will get the best wide angled shots of the building of all. Try to visit the Ferry Building on one of the days (Tuesday and Saturday) where the farmer’s market is going on to get even more great shots.

#9 The Palace of Fine Arts / Exploratorium. The Palace of Fine Arts is a building in San Francisco originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. It’s especially stunning at night. Be sure to try to shoot a bit under the dome of the building to get a shot that looks like this.

The Exploratorium is a science museum inside the Palace of Fine Arts building. Although especially great for kids, the museum also has lots of fun things for adults to shoot as well.

#10 The cemeteries. There are two cemeteries that I’d especially recommend shooting in San Francisco. Neither are particularly easy to get to, but if you like shooting dramatic cemeteries both are worth a visit.

The first is the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio. This is a large military cemetery with rows and rows and rows of identical grave markers. In addition to the stones themselves, there are dramatic views of the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Presidio from the top of this cemetery.

The second cemetery I’d recommend visiting is Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. You’ll probably want to rent a car to get to this location as it’s not so convenient, but this cemetery has the most spectacular cemetery sculpture in the entire Bay Area. This cemetery is where the wealthiest in San Francisco’s days gone by were buried and has dramatic sculptures of angels especially. Don’t miss Crocker’s angel.

There are lots of other great places to shoot in and around San Francisco. Browse some of my collections for some other great spots and feel free to comment if you have questions on other spots to shoot.

Bonus links:

Best Chinese Food in San Francisco: Henry’s Hunan (Downtown/Chinatown)

Best Mexican Food in San Francisco: La Taqueria (Mission District)

Best Reasonably Priced Sushi: Godzilla Sushi (Pacific Heights)

Best Expensive Sushi: Sushi Ran (Sausalito)

Best Breakfast Spot in San Francisco: Sears Fine Food (Union Square)

Best Used CD Store in San Francisco: Amoeba (Haight)

Best Wine Store: K&L; Wines (South of Market)

Best Wine Bar: Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant (Ferry Building)

Best Camera/Photo Store: None. They all are pretty much overpriced. Save yourself some money and make sure to buy from B&H; ahead of your trip.