Archive for the ‘San Francisco’ Category

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


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.


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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The Inn at The Presidio is different. Set outside San Francisco’s city bustle, it’s not only a pleasurable place to stay, it holds a significant piece of the region’s history. The stately red brick building used to be headquarters for U.S. Army officers fortunate enough to be stationed at this military outpost. Now the entire 1,491-acre Presidio is a National Historic Landmark District, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  Pershing Hall, the single officers’ quarters, was remodeled and opened as a hotel in 2012. And here I am, admiring the view over the Presidio’s red-roofed buildings and green fields to the bay beyond and, of course, the always compelling Golden Gate Bridge.

I’m in one of 22 rooms on three floors that have been painstakingly restored to preserve the old Georgian Revival style and military memorabilia while providing modern comforts—downy duvets on firm beds, sizable bathrooms, flat screen TVs, internet access, mini-bars. (The best views are from the third floor.)  The service is top-notch. There’s no elevator, in keeping with the historic status, but guests who can’t climb stairs can book a room on the ground floor. Some SF visitors want to be closer to the action of downtown, but I don’t mind being this far away because it’s quiet–no sirens, traffic, or late-night party crowds. That doesn’t mean I’m alone. Five million people a year visit the Presidio, but I’m  happy to share this huge park of rolling green hills, wooded trails,  a beach, picnic areas, and a couple of restaurants (the Presidio Social Club is a good choice, though so popular it’s wise to book a table early).  The Walt Disney Museum is here, along with a number of commercial sites in former military buildings. If I want to go to the heart of the city, Inn at the Presidio offers free shuttle service on weekdays, as well as a shuttle around the Presidio itself. The Visitor Center tells of the site’s long, richly dramatic history,  It’s a pleasure just to wander among spicy-scented eucalyptus trees and over grassy slopes.

At the hotel, a feature I particularly like is its commitment to the environment. LEED-certified, it uses organic-based paints, insulation from recycled cotton denim (who knew?), USA-made wool rugs, water conservation, and no mini-soaps or shampoo bottles. Room and suite rates are $195 to $350 per night, which includes an excellent buffet breakfast, taken indoors or out, and afternoon wine and cheese. Parking is $6 a day. Inn at The Presidio is a fine addition to the San Francisco lodging scene.



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pearl city chinatown sfPearl City, on Jackson Street in San Francisco’s Chinatown, is busy and crowded, and John and I are the only non-Asian lunch customers, the only ones struggling with chopsticks and menu. I gratefully accept a fork from the hostess, along with her translations. Pearl City is dim sum territory, where waitresses push wheeled carts from table to table and you choose your dumplings, shrimp paste, chicken chunks, pork-stuffed hom bow, spring rolls and whatever else catches your fancy. For most of it we make guesses, until the hostess steps in and suggests vegetables and seafood on crispy noodles. It’s all delicious. The only thing I don’t like about this place is that shark’s fin soup is on the menu. Sharks are threatened with extinction, and an anti-shark’s fin soup campaign is now underway, with ads on buses running through Chinatown and other areas with large Asian populations.

Next door is the better known Great Eastern Restaurant, where hordes of tourists and locals wait for tables. Service is fast, and they won’t wait long. Great Eastern too serves Hong Kong-style dim sum, and from past experience we know it’s one of the best.

We’re exploring neighborhood restaurants, so now we’re across town with friends at Delfina in the hip and still gritty Mission district. The place is crammed and noisy. Does everyone have to yell to be sure they’re having fun? The din may be outrageous, but the dinner is excellent: tagliatelle with chopped guinea hen sauce, delicate bass, a rich and silky pennacotta dessert. And an unusual wine, Anderson Valley sauvignon blanc, cidery and cloudy because it’s unfiltered.

Nob Hill Cafe, on Taylor Street, is in a tonier area, on the steep hill nob hill cafe sfnear some of the city’s loftiest hotels. It’s full of verve, cozy and friendly, with folks who know where to go for good Italian food. No reservations are taken, so we sip wine at a sidewalk table until we’re led inside and handed menus. Risotto with snap peas and tortellini in creamy pesto sauce–terrific. Also mango gelato with a cheesecake crust to finish it off.

Ferry Plaza Seafood is on the Embarcadero, very San Francisco. We eat outdoors with a view of the Bay Bridge, ferry traffic, strollers and bicyclists. My avocado stuffed with shrimp salad is a treat, along with bread at 50 cents per piece.  The bread charge goes to a good cause: restaurant workers’ health benefits. For dessert we munch on fabulous chocolate cookies from Village Market, a specialty foods shop in the Ferry Building. I’d go back for for those, as well as the other little shops selling exotic cheeses, chocolates, herbs, garden gear, ferry bldg mushroomsmushrooms and more. Then there’s the famous farmers’ market, on Ferry Plaza, where nearly 25,000 people a week come to buy produce, flowers, meats and eggs from regional farmers. A festive scene, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

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redwood tree, Muir WoodsA million people a year come to Muir Woods, California, to gaze up at the world’s tallest living things. John and I are among them, treading the boardwalk that winds through the redwood trees along Redwood Creek, hearing exclamations of amazement in a dozen languages.  Muir Woods National Monument is a 560-acre park 12 miles north of the Gold Gate Bridge, open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset, with an entrance fee for ages 16 and older. There’s a visitor center and a gift shop, but everyone’s here for those magnificent, big trees. And I do mean big. Some coast redwoods are more than 252 feet high and 14 feet wide. Mature trees are 500 to 800 years old, and some have been standing for 1,000 years. (Redwoods in other California forests can reach 380 feet and 2,000 years.) They are beyond impressive, they give new meaning to awesome.

We’re on the main canyon floor, where bridges across the creek allow short loop walks into the woods and back on the other side. Rangers are on hand to answer questions and good-naturedly take pictures of  kids posing against giant trees. Six miles of unpaved trails meander through Muir Woods, connecting with trails in Mt. Tamalpais State Park.

Mt. Tam is our other destination. It’s only a 40-minute drive from downtown San Francisco, but a world away, with trees, chaparral, and miles of trails  instead of high-rise buildings and concrete sidewalks.  The view from East Peak, view from Mt. Tamat 2,571 feet, is spectacular in every direction, even to the snowy Sierra Nevadas on the horizon. There’s a visitor center, open weekends, and a wheelchair-accessible trail. The Mt. Tamalpais Interpretive Association offers guided hikes, walks in the moonlight, and astronomy nights in summer, with telescopes for watching the stars.

I’ll be back for those, but lunch is currently on my mind. We head for Stinson Beach, a few miles from the park. This cafelittle coastal town (pop. 486) has antique and gift shops, a beach park, and a terrific cafe, Breakers. At a table on the patio, I’m eating the best chicken tortilla soup I’ve tasted outside of Mexico, and even better than some served there. John’s BLT is crammed with fresh tomatoes and thick, crispy bacon. The lemonade is tart and good. We love this place, and so do many others. The line of hungry customers extends to the front door.

Good food, a sunny day, and incredible natural beauty: perfection.

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capellini at kuletos san franciscoMy other two favorite SF restaurants have been around awhile, and they never fail to please. Even ordinary dishes like pasta with marinara sauce are served with flair and a twist. It’s lunchtime again, and we’re munching excellent Italian food in Kuleto’s, in the Villa Florence Hotel near Union Square.  A simple plate of capellini, crammed with tomatoes and garlic, is perfect. More unusual is the grilled radicchio with pancetta,radicchio kuletos san francisco which looks like a burnt hedgehog but is delicious.

Kuleto’s light, pretty room has a casual but sophisticated atmosphere, a nice spot to meet friends over a meal and whatever wine the waiter recommends. The service is excellent; our waiter is happy to oblige all requests, friends at kuletos sfincluding taking our picture.  Fun facts: 1) Kuleto’s was once a go-go bar, and the dancing girls’ pedestals still stand in the front window. 2) Outside the entrance is a time capsule that was filled when the Villa Florence was built in 1986, the year Halley’s comet last appeared. The capsule will be opened when the comet comes around again–in 2061. I will likely miss that event.

Here’s my fourth choice (I don’t mean by preference, just one more great spot) for special dining during a long weekend by the Bay: Cafe de la Presse, downtown on Grant Avenue.  Under new management since 2005, it’s a French-style bistro serving French food and wines from Europe and California. It would feel right at home in Paris.  I’m nibbling sea bass, tasting the duck confit with mushrooms, and chevre salad cafe de la pressesavoring a green salad with chevre cheese on toast. The final touch is melt-in-the-mouth creme brulee.  The Cafe is said to serve terrific breakfasts; next time I’m in The City, I’ll try one.  Unique to Cafe de la Presse is its collection of international literature. The racks hold 200-plus foreign magazines and newspapers. international magazines, cafe de la presse

All four of the restaurants I’ve mentioned are expensive, and the credit card is taking a beating. “But this is San Francisco,” the taste buds whine, and they win. I can go back to rice and beans when I’m home.  I’m already looking forward to the next SF visit and checking on more places that please the senses.

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I don’t come to the City by the Bay only to eat, but it’s a dandy reason to stay awhile. So here I am, starting with a lunch of outstanding Vietnamese food  in The Slanted Door. A few raindrops slide down the wide windows, giving a watery view of the Bay Bridge and ferries chugging back and forth, while we feast on grilled tiger prawns, rice noodles with chicken and broccoli, and other delectables. Plus several glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. Our waiter, Sam, has again steered us in the right direction.

The Slanted Door is in the restored Ferry Building by the Embarcadero. It seats 150 people, plus 44 more on the heated patio, and it’s always packed (we reserved a table 4 weeks ago). Executive Chef grilled tiger prawns, slanted door SFCharles Phan and his collaborators know what they’re doing, serving fabulous food in a festive but never rushed atmosphere. Later, we stroll around the Ferry Building shops, browsing in the Book Passage and the stalls that offer honey, exotic mushrooms, chocolate, pastries and a thousand other treats. Then we amble up the viewing platform to admire the bay and city skyline.

Suddenly it’s time for dinner, and here we are at a new hot spot, Sons & Daughters. This downtown place, on Bush Street, is headed for stardom. It has a modern black and white setting with crystal chandeliers for contrast, waiters all in black, and incredibly good service that’s attentive but not smothering. And the food, oh my. sablefish, sons&daughters SFHere’s my 4-course fixed price meal: An amuse-bouche (a complimentary starter, in case you’re wondering) of delicate oysters on the half-shell. Beet soup with creme fraiche. Sablefish with watercress puree and honey-lemon foam. I know, it sounds precious, but the foam adds a nice citrusy touch. Salad on curds and whey–Little Miss Muffet isn’t the only one who gets c&w–and dessert of persimmon cake with fennel ice cream. Plus a spoonful of strawberries with vanilla powder. Also, there’s a diverse wine list. On the downside, no decaf coffee is served.

The young owner/chefs Teague Moriarty, Matt McNamara, and Lindsay Fair chefs at sons & daughters sftrained in a San Francisco culinary school, and Matt traveled in Europe developing the cuisine. They learned their craft well.  It’s pricey, but I’ll be back. Next post: the other 2 irresistible SF restaurants

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I never get bored with cable cars, Chinatown, Golden Gate Park, and the buzz around bernal heights sf viewUnion Square.  And of course great restaurants. But there’s a lot more to see and do in the City by the Bay. I make new discoveries every time. Bernal Heights, for example, not exactly unknown, but south of Mission and seldom visited by tourists. A steep climb takes you up the hill to a park with a million-dollar view. You’re  overlooking all of San Francisco, the bridges and bays, Marin County, and East Bay. Fabulous. bernal heights view to east bayThe park has scrubby grass, a few trees, and paths winding around the hillside. Also lots of dogs, because it’s an off-leash area. The “Illegal Soapbox Derby” soapbox derby bernal heightstakes place here in the fall, when riders in makeshift vehicles race wildly down the hill.

The Bernal Heights neighborhood is fun to wander, with its cafes, quiet streets, small houses, and gardens. Trendy shops, too, and quite a few artists. It was considered dangerous and crime-ridden in the 1980s, but that’s past and it’s cleaned up now. And that view alone makes it worth the drive or bus ride.

Here’s another bit of SF that’s new to me: the Marrakesh Magic Theater on O’Farrell, a few blocks from Union Square. Peter Morrison is amazing, a magician extraordinaire.   In top hat and tux, he stands in a tiny theater that holds only 30 or magician san franciscoso people and performs feats of prestidigitation and mentalism that are baffling. His show is hugely entertaining as he pulls in members of the audience and keeps up a running patter of humor that’s clean enough for all ages. How did he know that lady was thinking of an Ace of Hearts? Or make a coin appear in a man’s closed fist? (Yeah, I read that Scientific American article about how illusion works on the brain, but I’m sticking with magic.)

Peter sets the mood before the show by having everyone gather in the Sultan’s Oasis for drinks. He does card and coin tricks at each table. Then he ushers us into the theater and seats us according to height and whatever agenda he has in mind. He’s a peter morrison magician sfmaster at this, having done more than 3000 performances at various places, including the famous Magic Castle in Hollywood, during the past 15 years. Now it’s a San Francisco treat. I’ll be back and watch his dexterous hands more closely next time. Or not.  Maybe I’d rather just be dazzled.

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 We prowled the gritty streets and alleyways of San Francisco that Sunday, searching for an infamous black bird, or at least the ghost of Bogey. Don Herron led the way, in his snapbrim and wrinkled trench coat. We never found the Black Falcon, though we saw a replica in John’s Grill, but we felt a few ghostly shivers and learned a lot about Dashiell Hammett and his noir detective stories set in The City By The Bay. Well, Don ought to know every detail of the author’s life and books, he’s been doing this tour for 33 years. We paused for a beer during the 4-hour walk, in a bar with ripped vinyl stools and photos of boxers on the walls. Very Continental Op. Later we saw the alley where Sam Spade’s partner, Miles Archer, met his end in the night fog, betrayed by a treacherous dame. The tour cost a measly tenspot, worth every cent. Next time I’m wearing a cool ’40s hat.

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