27 September 2010

Delectable delights in San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge
For hubby and I, one of our favourite things to do together is travel - get out there and experience new places, check out the local museums, shop (ya, that might be more "me" than hubby there), take loads of pictures and, of course, taste the local cuisine.  We like to see as much as we can of a new place, and for us, that means lots of our time is spent walking - I've gotten some pretty decent blisters in some of the most beautiful cities in the world.  This year, after a summer that ended up being far more hectic than we had anticipated, hubby and I were both in need of some serious R&R.  A brief amount of surf time on the net showed there were some great deals to be had for San Francisco, which was perfect because, while it's always been on the very long list of places we want to see, it had yet to be checked off.  I made sure we could both get the time off work, booked the flight and hotel and started counting down...

Our countdown time was still busy enough that I didn't even have time to do my customary research-everything-to-death-before-we-go.  In fact, I didn't even start packing until the night before our early morning flight, which had me freaking out just a bit.  You have to understand, I come from a family of Planners, with a capital 'P' - I can guarantee you that my mom has a packing list already started for their Asian cruise next April.  So the fact that I was so unprepared meant that hubby had to take the dogs out to doggy camp on his own while I stayed home to pack.  The irony is, by leaving the packing until the last minute (coupled with the fact that it was a short trip we were headed on), meant that for the first time in my life, I didn't overpack!  I've been a member at Over-Packers Anonymous for quite a while, and I may finally have turned a corner! Woohoo!

The famous San Francisco Cable Cars
Even though our trip was only 4 days, it felt like longer and was exactly what we needed.  Even better, the weather was perfect - sunny and 19˚C the whole time, which the locals told us was a nice change from the foggy and colder-than-usual summer they'd had.  We did a lot of sightseeing, a bit of shopping,  mile after mile of walking (of course), rode the famous cable cars and ate some absolutely incredible meals. Gastronomically speaking, here are some of the highlights:

Our first night, we decided to check out Café de la Presse, at the recommendation of Stephanie over at Desserts for Breakfast (I like the way she thinks!).  A charming French restaurant not far from Union Square, it has a simple but thoroughly French menu.  From start to finish, the entire meal was very good:  soupe à l'oignon, salade aux petit lardons, cassoulet and poulet rôti, all accompanied by the most authentic and delicious baguette I have tasted this side of the Atlantic.  For dessert, we shared a classic tarte tatin, even though we were both full from dinner (I, of all people, should know better!).  The only flaw in an otherwise evening was that the restaurant was quite warm that night, and right about the time we were waiting for our café & dessert, it became uncomfortably so.  Had it not become such a sauna, we likely would have stayed another 30-40 minutes and ended the meal at a more leisurely pace - but thankfully, the cool evening air on the walk home was the perfect fix.

Alcatraz shrouded in fog

 The next day, after returning from our obligatory-but-not-disappointing visit to Alcatraz, we immediately hopped on the ferry to Sausalito, just in time for lunch. It seems that the restaurants along the main street experience a huge surge once the ferry docks, and after passing huge lineups at a few restaurants that weren't all that enticing, we decided to wander further afield - in only makes sense that there would be more restaurants that the locals prefer, a block or two away from the touristy main drag. Sure enough, we happened upon the only restaurant that didn't have a lineup (normally, not an encouraging sign) Piccolo Teatro di Sausalito. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why there wasn't a huge wait for this place - the service was excellent, and the meal was superb. I had the Pulled Porchetta Panino, with a fennel & basic pesto, but I still had to have a taste of hubby's Lamb Burger. We capped it all off with really really good, authentic cappuccinos and sharing a strawberry panna cotta do good it made me want to weep. Sharing it was a huge mistake... I applaud Chef Amey Shaw and her staff for a lunch so good, it eclipsed our meal from the night before.

Since we were "conveniently" so close, we took a cab to the neighbouring town of Mill Valley, for a bit of shopping at the culinary boutique, Tyler Florence Mill Valley.  It is a gorgeous little shop, and the mix of elegant kitchen antiques and vintage silverware that they offer in addition to the high end cookware, tableware, and cooks tools adds a lot of charm and personality into what could have been "just another cookware store".  I read that Tyler's Mrs, Tolan, actually does a lot of the buying for the shop and she has a sharp eye for very pretty things.  I left the shop with a bag of goodies, but sadly I couldn't quite justify the price of the gorgeous cook's apron and towels that seem to have been made exclusively for the shop (of course, that hasn't stopped me from coveting them).  Mill Valley also has a number of home decor stores, antique shops and one hilarious card shop - it's a lovely town to spend an afternoon in.

Tyler Florence ~ Mill Valley
Saturday, we walked down to the SFMoMA for a dose of art and somehow managed to get back onto desserts (I'm as shocked as you are!).  We stopped at the MoMA Rooftop Café for something to drink and discovered the ingenious dessert creations of Blue Bottle Coffee Co's pastry chef Caitlin Freeman; a stunning display of desserts inspired by current exhibits featured at the museum.  Hubby had already ordered me what turned out to be the best affogato I have ever had, but I'm sure that every one of the sweet treats are as delicious as they are beautiful.  To support my thesis, I present the following mouth-watering evidence....

Dessert imitates Art....
Mondrian Cake... definitely on my "to-do" list!

if only the wrapper were edible...

AKA "Eat Your Own Richard Serra"

I want this cup of million dollar hot chocolate!

the Ellsworth Kelly Fudgsicle

the blueprints for a cool, caffeinated treat

On Sunday, we started out towards Golden Gate Park, but got sidetracked by a shoe sale - which I left empty handed, but hubby scored two new pairs. This meant we would have been pretty rushed for the rest of the afternoon, so we just walked and wandered: making our way through Chinatown and several shops on Market Street. In Westfield Centre, we found a fantastic and ingenious chocolate boutique called Cocoa Bella. It's unique because they don't actually make any chocolates of their own - instead, they source high quality, delicious chocolates from artisanal chocolatiers from around the world. Averaging about $2 apiece, I could have spent a *lot* of money on chocolates that afternoon, but after about 10 minutes of drooling on the display case, I finally selected a handful of flavours to try: Rosemary Caramel, Strawberry Balsamic, Crème Brulée, Key Lime, Lemon Cup and Rose Caramel.... every one of them, exquisite. Had we found this shop on day one instead of 4, we'd have brought home even more of them to try. With only two shops, both located in San Francisco, I'm not sure when I'll get back to try some more. Sure, they have an online store, but they only ship overnight within the US. Maybe I'll get some shipped to Sis's place when we're there for Christmas...

San Francisco's Chinatown
For our last meal in the city by the bay, we made reservations at Tyler Florence's brand new restaurant, Wayfare Tavern.  From the moment you enter, it's clear that a great deal of thought went into absolutely every detail of the restaurant.  From the decor of the room, right down to the etched glass water bottles, napkins and cast aluminum charger plates, sugar & cream set - not a single thing has been overlooked.  My only hope is that is stays this way... I tend to be a detail person, and hubby and I are always surprised when we go out to a nice restaurant only to find the handle on the cream pitcher is broken or the table is wobbly, etc.  It's pretty clear that Tyler and his team spared no expense on elegant touches like custom dishes and linens, so it would be shame to see that aspect of the restaurant go downhill as time passes and things naturally start to wear or dishes get broken - our server told us the restaurant only opened at the end of July, so it's all still shiny and new. As for the food (because let's face it, that's really why we were here)  the food was absolutely fantastic: the popovers served for bread were perfection - crisp and puffy with a custardy interior... so good that hubby actually enjoyed seconds before our appetizers arrived.  Dinner itself was off to a great start with the Salt Roasted Bone Marrow for him, and the Figs on a Plate for me.  Just writing this post, I am craving another taste of that creamy burrata cheese with fresh figs, onions & dressing (soooo good - I want to eat that every night).  For dinner, I went with the incredibly moist and tender Fried Chicken & Fries, while hubby had the Smoked Pork Chop - incredibly tasty with grilled peaches, almond butter and fennel.  The entire meal was impeccable, so of course we had to make sure dessert was equally good.  Hubby had the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, and tried to sway me from my choice of the Fig Semifreddo, since I had the figs as a starter.  As good as his cake was, I did good by going with the figs again - it was incredible.  We were absolutely stuffed, but the entire meal had surpassed my expectations, so it was a pleasurable pain... right up until our server delivered two warm, soft ginger cookies to our table - the customary treat they serve at the end of a meal at Wayfare Tavern.  Of course, I couldn't say no but hubby couldn't eat another bite, so I tucked his cookie into a napkin for him to enjoy later, and to the hotel we waddled to pack for our early morning flight home.

Four days in San Francisco proved to be the perfect remedy for our summertime exhaustion, but we're already itching for another get-away.... guess we'll just have to hang in there until Christmas, when we head back to California to spend the holidays with Sis & her family.  For now, I'll leave you with a couple of shots of the fabulous vintage trolley cars of San Francisco, still in operation but living in the shadows of their cable car cousins....

San Fran's super-cool trolley cars

Very retro and still running!


Seattle Pastry Girl said...

I'm so jealous,I love San Francisco. Your post is lovely and beautiful photos !

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

Oh what a fun trip! Makes me miss SF and I only just came back in August myself!

Steph (desserts for breakfast) said...

oh, i'm so glad you liked Cafe de la Presse! and i've never been to the sfmoma cafe, but after reading your post, it sounds like i'll have to make a trip ASAP.

Navy Blue Notes said...

OK. Now I REALLY want to see SF. Great stuff!

shewhisks said...

I sooo have to make that mondrian cake! It looks incredible along with all the other sweet delights! You look like you had a fabulous time, it'll definately be in my places to visit one day!