Best of the Bay 2009: Food and Drink

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Editors Picks: Food and Drink

BEST CRAB TOWER TO HEAVEN

Somebody call the Fish Police — we should be cited for loitering at this convivial Italian seafood restaurant. Following the tradition of cicchetti, exquisite little dishes shared family style, Pesce offers communal creations that bring a playful yet authentic touch of Venice to Russian Hill. It can get a bit loud in the narrow, tiled dining room, but you (and hopefully a date or two) will be ensconced in your own world of flavor as you swoon over rich dishes like the porcini pappardelle with braised duck, delectable white anchovy-topped bruschetta, an inimitably tangy tonno puttanesca, and, if you're lucky enough to visit when it's on the dessert menu, a warm, sweet budin (bread pudding) garnished with seasonal fruits that makes "sharing" a risky maneuver. But the small plate that really sends us soaring is Pesce's justly famous crab tower, less a tower than a little stairway to heaven layered with Dungeness, avocado, cucumber, basil, tomato, and a drizzle of red wine vinaigrette. Alas, it's demolished all too quickly. Care to climb another?

2227 Polk, SF. (415) 928-8025, www.pescesf.com

BEST RECIPE FOR A COMFORT FOOD COMA

Restraint, self-discipline, and moderation have their place. But that place is not Hard Knox Cafe, the soul food kitchen that blithely (and thankfully!) ruins diets and courts cardiac arrest. This is a place of comfort and indulgence, with fried-chicken battered just right, ribs whose meat melts off the bone, and mac 'n' cheese so rich that even Southerners have trouble finishing it. Add in a couple moist, piping-hot corn muffins — worth the visit alone — and you're on your way to a food coma that'll last all day. So clear your calendar, put on your elastic pants, and settle into a cushy red two-seater for an afternoon of collard greens, blackened catfish, and black-eyed peas in portions big enough to sink a cow. We know you want it — and at $10 for an entrée with two sides plus muffins, we know you can afford it too.

2526 3rd St., SF. (415) 648-3770; 2448 Clement, SF. (415) 752-3770, www.hardknoxcafe.com

BEST PLACE TO RIND DOWN

Far from clueless snackers who group their cheeses by color and call it a day, fromage groupies are fervent about their curdy calling — which may be why the San Francisco School of Cheese has been consistently selling out its classes since opening in 2006. Courses cover everything from cheese species (cow, goat, and sheep, of course) to regions (France, Italy, Spain, Australia, and Wisconsin are all represented, as are a bevy of exotic locales off the Mediterranean coast). The courses also cater to all levels (amateurs and connoisseurs alike), and teach beverage pairings (beer, wine, what-have-you). Located on a quiet street in North Beach, the Cheese School offers two-hour evening classes taught by one of 10 instructors in spacious headquarters, all for about $60. Sounds bougie as hell? Sure, but it also sounds delicious.

2155 Powell, SF. (415) 346-7530, www.cheeseschoolsf.com

BEST USER-GENERATED CHOCOLATE

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