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Archive for April, 2013

DSC07965 Rattlesnakes. Poison oak. Ticks.  We were well-warned, and I’m prepared   with thick boots, long pants, walking sticks and tweezers. Sure enough, ten minutes after starting up the rock-strewn trail, I spot a  rattlesnake sunning on a rock. It’s a pretty little thing, with black and orange-yellow stripes, and doesn’t bother rattling, just slithers away between rocks. Great start! I’m thrilled, but just as glad it’s the only snake I see on this beautiful 5-mile hike in the Columbia River Gorge in southwestern Washington.  No ticks, either, but vast quantities of poison oak. I’m steering clear of the shiny green, red-edged leaves, and all clothes will go into the washer at the end of the day.

Cherry Orchard Trail starts just east of the tunnels on Highway 14, east of the small town of Lyle. On a warm spring day, it is lovely, with stunning viewsDSC07971 of the wide river, the columnar basalt cliffs, and hillsides glowing with yellow balsamroot and purple and blue lupine.  After a few minutes’ walk, we reach the trailhead sign and a metal box of releases. This is private land, but hikers are allowed if they sign releases stating that they assume all risks and agree to not have fires. We wind through forests of scrub oak and across open green hillsides where wildflowers bloom; I-expect to see Julie Andrews come toward us singing “The Sound of Music.”

This hiking trail was redone not long ago. It’s not as steep as the old route, DSC07976but has plenty of up-and-down, with an elevation gain of 1160 feet. The trail switchbacks up and eastward through woods and  fields, passing a seasonal pond where butterflies gather. Few are here now, but we have company: shiny black beetles, red-winged flies, a still-as-stone green lizard, flies with black and white stripes, crows, hawks, and blue moths.  And the rattler.

When you’re looking for solitude, this is a good place to find it.  On the entire 5-mile, 3.5-hour hike, we encounter a single walker and a small group of friends on an outing. We hear nothing but the breeze rustling oak leaves and, on the lower slopes, the hoot of a train and the faint roar of freeway traffic from the Oregon side of the river.

When we reach an old dirt road, we turn right and go a few yards more to a former homestead site and the orchard that gave the DSC07973trail its name. It’s the end of the trail and our grassy picnic spot.  The view is stunning. We’re high above the Columbia, looking down on a bend in the river, with hills and flatlands stretching to central and eastern Washington. Oregon’s cliffs, forests, and snow-peaked mountains lie to the south.

The orchard itself is at the end of its life; I see only one tree with cherry blossoms.  I’m already thinking of coming back in summer to see if any cherries appear, but that’s only an excuse. This is such a great hike, I’ll be happy to return with or without cherry trees.DSC07981

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Here in San Francisco, we’re sampling foods from around the world. Italian, French, Basque, Vietnamese, Thai, Spanish, Japanese, American-at-its-best. . . but time runs short, so some great-sounding Mexican, Indian, Chinese, and Asian-Fusion places are on the list for next time.

DSC07818     Zarzuela, on the corner of Union and Hyde, has a loyal following and doesn’t take reservations, but service is fast and we don’t have to wait long for a table. The atmosphere is

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lively, not too loud for conversation. Lots of tapas here, hot and cold, from grilled eggplant stuffed with goat cheese to poached octopus and potatoes with onions. Several Spaniards are tucking into a taste of home. Specialties of the house include Catalan seafood stew, scallops in romesco sauce, and oxtail stew, all interesting, but the paella gets the most raves, and I’ll try that next time. For now, it’s grilled squid with aioli, asparagus with goat cheese, and grilled mushrooms served in a small skillet (flavorful, but drenched in oil). Zarzuela serves a house-made sangria; we go for a crisp white wine instead. Tip: parking is a hassle. Ride the bus or cable car, which stops at the corner, or walk. You need the exercise anyway, with all this eating out.

Next is Japanese cuisine. After strolling the Marina district in the sunshine, watching white sails zip around the bay, we head to Chestnut Street and its many cafes. They’re all crammed, almost spilling into the street, but Naked Fish has empty tables in back next to a small green garden, so here we are eating terrific sushi. The ahi tuna, wrapped in seaweed and rice, is so tender it almost melts in the mouth. The miso soup is delectable, prices are reasonable. The chicken yakitori and teriyaki are fine, but the soup and sushi are tops.

DSC07373On Russian Hill, Cocotte, formerly Hyde Street Bistro, is small, French, and charming.

The menu is limited but varied and the service excellent, with French flair.

There’s an open kitchen, so we can watch the chef prepare the house specialty, juicy-tender rotisserie chicken. My unusual appetizer of shredded rabbit on crispy spaetzle is delicious—I swipe my plate clean with the good bread–and the butter lettuce salad takes me directly to France. The wine list is commendable.

 Basque food I know only slightly, so I’m eager to try

Piperade, on Battery Street. Bay Area friends greet us gladly, as does the waiter, and already I love the place. Piperade refers to a typical Basque dish of red pepper and onions, with many variations. This one has sautéed Serrano ham and poached eggs.

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Classic dishes change daily, touching on a cuisine that borrows from the sea and the mountains of Basque country. On Fridays it’s black cod with potatoes and leeks, on Saturdays veal stew with braised peppers. My tasty salad combines arugula, large radish slices, golden raisins

and arugula salad Piperade

pine nuts, a nice combination and probably very Basque. The calamari with fennel and capers is another good choice, and the piquillo pepper stuffed with rich goat cheese, surrounded by a pistachio sauce is a hit. Best, though, is the rack of lamb, cooked rare and tender. With all this (tastes around the table, of course) we have a dry white Basque wine.

 

San Francisco food: clam chowder, crisp fish ‘n chips, Caesar salad. These we like with beer at Park Chalet upscale DSC07885and has a view of the beach and the Pacific. Our pub food is good and the service fine, though I should add that I’ve heard some negative comments about it. Anyway, the most interesting thing about this place for me is the lobby. This is a remarkable piece of San Francisco history, and I knew nothing of it until now. It has display cases of SF historic items, intriguing tile work, and walls covered with wonderful 1930s frescoes by Lucien Labault.  They’re scenes of San Francisco life during the Great Depression. Labault also painted some of the famous murals in Coit Tower.

This is only a minuscule, whimsical sampling of a few restaurants among hundreds. Do you have a favorite in the City by the Bay?

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