Friday, January 14, 2011

If You're Going to San Francisco . . .

. . . and we are!
We're looking forward to experiencing the city during the holiday season, riding the cable cars, shopping in Union Square, poking around Fisherman's Wharf, and of course, sampling some of what one of the best foodie cities in North America has to offer. San Francisco is a leader in the slow food movement and local chefs pride themselves on using fresh local ingredients in their culinary creations. We're also hoping to take in one of the culinary tours offered so we can get a feel for the city's neighbourhoods. This site will provide a place to document our experiences and post photos of our adventures as we taste our way around the globe, one city at a time!

December 29, 2010  Five Days to Eat and Enjoy
Our flight was much shorter than expected, but the time we saved was taken up waiting for our baggage. It was an hour and twenty minutes before it finally showed up on the carousel. We took the BART downtown, arrived about 11 and were able to check into our hotel right away. We headed out to shop for awhile and had lunch at Postrio on Post Street. I had a disappointing Wild Arugula Salad with roasted butternut squash (3 tiny cubes), shaft's 1 year blue cheese (about 1 1/2 tablespoons), preserved lemon-poppy vinaigrette, and rye croutons (3, I'm not kidding). Den ordered the Oven-Roasted Miso Cod Fish and Chips, and liked the miso flavour, so that is something to try at home, despite the fact that I usually avoid soy. We jumped on a cable car and headed down to Fisherman’s Wharf. Mmm--the smell of fresh crab steaming on a grill, clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls, lobster salad buns, prawns, and more--all this right down by the ocean! Why had we already stopped for lunch?

Our next stop was Ghirardhelli Square. While Andrea had told us we “had” to have an ice cream sundae, we found the free chocolates offered to us as we entered the store satisfied our chocolate cravings (especially since we entered three times!) so we passed on the extra calories. 

After a cable car ride back to Union Square, we shopped a little more then looked for a place for dinner. The menu outside John Foley’s Irish House looked interesting, so did the decor, and the food was fabulous. I had a Vegetarian Irish Stew and Den had Curried Chicken with Naan bread. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, an attentive waitress, and a cosy atmosphere combined to make for a great dinner experience.

Vegetarian Irish Stew with with Portabello Mushrooms, Spinach, Asparagus, Barley, Mint, Mashed Potatoes, and Savory Vegetable Broth 
December 30, 2010  A Day in the Napa Valley
An early start! David, Susan, John and Eric picked us up outside our hotel before 8:00 a.m. and we headed straight out to Napa over the Bay Bridge. Since we were so early, the market and most of the stores in Napa weren’t open yet, so we wandered along the newly developed river walk in the sunshine for a while. The first winery on our tour was the Hess. We spent hours viewing the fabulous art collection, and had a great tour and tasting. The art housed here represents only about 15 percent of his collection that is on display in museums worldwide. Hess tends to support lesser known artists, limits his collection to 20 artists, but supports them for the long term.

Dormant vines in the Hess Vineyard.

The red on the barrels is simply cosmetic:  it makes the red wine stains less noticeable.

Wine Tasting at Hess Winery

Next stop?  Robert Mondavi. Another tour with an entertaining guide, more tasting and, of course, shopping in the gift shop.

Beringer's was our last winery for the day. I purchased a number of items in the gift shop there. I'm looking forward to trying the Caramel Chardonnay Sauce, Chardonnay with Jalapeno Mustard, and Caramelized Red Onion and Fig Dipping Sauce that I bought.

Our guide book recommended Don Giovanni’s Bistro in Napa, and the nod was well earned. We were lucky to get in without a reservation as the place was packed by 6:00. I had the recommended Beet and Haricots Verts Salad (with avocado, onions in a light vinaigrette), followed by Ravioli with two sauces--Lemon Cream and Tomato, and finished my meal with a Pear and Raspberry Crisp with Vanilla Bean Gelato.

Beet and Haricot Vert Salad--fresh, crisp and tons of flavour

Ravioli with Lemon Cream Sauce and with Tomato Sauce
(Lemon won, hands down)

Den's Caesar Salad

David's Pumpkin Soup
Pear and Raspberry Crisp topped with Vanilla Bean Gelato
our opinion? It would have been better with cream.

The Signature Dessert:  Tiramisu. VERY rich! Even John couldn't finish it.

December 31, 2011 Hayes Valley Gourmet Food Walk

When I read about the Gourmet Food Walks in SF, I knew that it was an experience I didn't want to miss. I reserved two spots without hesitation. The walk far surpassed our expectations. Our tour guide, Avital, was knowledgeable, professional, and fun. She led us through seven venues, providing us with a wealth of information about the history of the food and restaurant industry in San Francisco and about the food that we were sampling. We could never have had such a great experience on our own without a guide.

Our first stop was the Samovar Tea Lounge, appropriately situated kitty-corner to the Zen Center. Here we were treated to chevre-stuffed dates as we sampled a number of different teas and learned how tea is harvested and prepared.

Inside the Samovar Tea Lounge

Zen Center

Typical street scene

Hayes Valley Community Farm
This area was the former site of a highway on ramp, destroyed during the 1989 earthquake. It is now being developed as a community farm, where residents can come and garden, develop a sense of community through team building activities, both for adults and children.

Second stop:  Frjtz. Here we had Belgian fries and sampled three of the twenty-two dipping sauces they offer. They reminded us of the fries we had in Bruges, Belgium this summer, although those sauces were mainly mayonnaise-based. Here we had Thai Chili, Pesto Mayo, and our favourite: White Truffle and Artichoke ketchup.
Belgian Fries at Fritz
 Next it was on to True Sake, described as the first store dedicated exclusively to sake in North America. It was almost like a museum and displayed over 220 different kinds of sake. The globe hanging outside the door is made of evergreens and is hung fresh the day the sake is made. When it turns completely brown, the sake will be ready.

Marino Mexican Seafood Restaurant was next on the list. If we had only looked at the exterior, or even the furnishings, we probably would not have chosen this spot to eat. However, the fish tacos, made with tilapia, were delicious, as were the authentic salsa and chips.

The Fatted Calf makes hand-crafted prepared meats using materials from local farms. They choose organic, hormone-free meats, natural seasonings and organic herbs. Not being big meat eaters, we listened and viewed, but didn't sample these.

The Arlequin Cafe is next to Absinthe on Hayes Street at Gough. We sat outside in their quiet courtyard and sampled four different locally prepared artisan cheeses, and washed them down with a local Cab Sav. We were starting to get very full by this point in the tour. Not complaining, however . . . 

But wait! There was still dessert. Chocolates were next. The choices at Christopher Elbow's Artisanal Chocolates were staggering, from Lavender, Fresh Mango, Fresh Lime, and Balsamic Caramel to Orange Pekoe Tea. The Rosemary Caramel was to die for. These are little pieces of art. Stunning. A memory in your mouth.

But we weren't finished yet! Our last official stop was Miette Confiserie, described as one of the world's top ten pastry shops. Miette, translated, simply means "crumbs". Here there was an exquisite gingerbread house on display as well as several Christmas confections. The homemade desserts were not cheap, but beautiful to look at. One of their features is made to order organic cotton candy. We sampled a gingerbread cupcake with cream cheese frosting before we were on our way. Delectable. Light. Airy. Delicious. A perfect note on which to end the tour.

Gingerbread Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Parisian Macaroons from Paulette's
Den and I didn't stop here, however. We had heard about Paulette's Parisian Macaroons and wanted to see if they were as good as the originals we had sampled in France. We bought 6 different flavours: Lavender, Chestnut, Cappuccino, Earl Grey, Coconut and Strawberry to share with our family back home. These are rapidly replacing cupcakes as the new trendy dessert. They get my vote, for sure.

January 1, 2011 New Year's Day  Breakfast--'50's Style

Lori's Diner launched us back into the '50's with its "Happy Days" style decor. While there were no low-fat diet options on this menu, the servers were amazingly fast and friendly, the plates were huge, and the coffee kept on coming. Nothing here that could be considered gourmet, but it was a fun place to start our day.

Exploring Chinatown
What I learned on the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco is that I have a lot to learn. Watching the local women choosing their fresh vegetables in the morning was both fun and educational.  

This, I think, is Lotus Root, but I'm not sure. I've learned that it is an aquatic plant that grows in marshes and shallow ponds. It is often used raw in stir fries to add a crisp texture and sweet flavour. Maybe it is similar to the jicama we get from Mexico. Actually, I think it is Daikon.
Bitter Melon
A gourd that looks like a cucumber with pocked skin. It is used in stir fries to add strong flavour and is sometimes paired with black beans.

Chinese Celery

Baby Bok Choy
How fresh are these!

 Some "interesting" choices for non-vegetarians.

Back to the Irish Pub

We celebrated New Year's Day with David, Susan, John and Eric over dinner at Foley's Irish House, since Den and I had enjoyed our meal there previously. It was a blustery, cold night so we were happy to be seated right by the fireplace. The evening just seemed to get better and better as it went on. Maybe it was the beer, maybe it was the comfort food, or maybe it was just the pleasure of sharing some laughs with people we love.

Smoked Cod with Braised Leeks, Spinach, Irish Cheddar Cheese and Mashed Potato Crust
Irish Soda Bread and Butter Pudding with Caramel and Custard Sauce

When I was growing up, my Dad always raved about his mother's Bread and Butter Pudding. My Mom never seemed to be able to recreate it quite right. I think this one would have received Dad's stamp of approval. It was oh-so-rich . . . and warm. . .  and caramelly. . . It was a good thing the waitress brought six spoons so we could all have a taste . . . and make a new culinary memory!

January 2, 2011 
The Last Supper . . .well, actually it was lunch.

On the last day of our 5-day getaway to San Francisco I was determined to have yet another great food experience. We chose the Blue Mermaid Chowder House right down near the waterfront. I had read about their Seafood Cioppini and wanted to give it a try. 
Bib looks silly, but was essential!

 The Seafood Cioppini was chock full of fresh tender mussels, cod, salmon, calamari, and crab served in a simmering tomato-based highly seasoned broth. I loved it all, except for the calamari which I just can't seem to develop a taste for. It's a texture thing, I guess. This dish was just bursting with flavour and I felt like a little kid when I was done as I definitely needed the extra napkins and wet wipes that are provided with it.

Dungeness Crab and Corn Chowder

Den had their award-winning Crab and Corn Chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl. That's too much bread for me, and actually it was for him too. However, the chowder lived up to its reputation.

Our last meal was an absolutely horrible Portobello Mushroom Burger at the airport. 'Nuff said.

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