Saturday, October 4, 2008

West Coast Road Trip Part 1: San Francisco highlights

In four days on the ground in the San Francisco area, we barely scratched the surface. Through Pleasanton and Livermore, Berkley and Oakland, from Embarcadero to the Tenderloin, we did some silly things, saw some dear friends, and ate some good stuff. All the while being blown away by the beauty and diversity of the Bay area.

A blow-by-blow would prove less than interesting, but some highlights (“a few of our favorite things”) include:

For all its limitations, it’s fast, cheap, and easy. From the time we got off the plane at SFO, we were at our buddy’s office in the financial district in under an hour - for less than $6 a head. Try THAT from Washington Dulles! Staying with him out in the ‘burbs, BART got us where we needed to go easily and cheaply.

This just serves to remind me, there are two types of major cities in the world: those where you can ride a train from the airport to the city center, and those where you can’t. It’s hard to make the list of great travel destinations if you’re not among the former. Anybody who’s reveled in moving from O’Hare to the Magnificent Mile, Heathrow to Piccadilly, or Changi to Orchard Road without suffering a bus interchange or traffic jam knows what I’m talking about. Conversely, anybody who’s sat unmoving sucking exhaust fumes while their Baht or Dollars or Yen roll away on a taxi meter understands.

Ferry Building:
Contrived? Yes. But the Ferry terminal building serves to capture much of the essence of San Francisco in a fine foods sense. Pleen took to referring to is as “my favorite building”

Our lunch on the day we arrived at Mistral is a case in point. This is, by any reasonable measure, fast food. It just doesn’t suck.

The lamb stew was rich with cumin, cinnamon, ginger, coriander, .green anise and cheyenne pepper ladled over couscous. The white beans Provencale & roasted butternut squash made for a beautiful plate of comfort food. Rounded out with an Anchor Steam for ~ $10, this is my idea of a value meal!

Walking around after that first lunch we reveled in the accessibility of lots of the bay area’s best eats: from Peet’s Coffee to the wonderful gingerbread cupcakes from Miette

When we returned the next day to pick up a few extra cupcakes for our kind hosts, we couldn’t pass up a sourdough cheese wheel from Acme Bakery before we headed out. Acme without having to head all the way to Berkley?!? A treat!!

Ferry Building merchant list & map:

Mistral Rotisserie Provencale
1 Ferry Bldg
San Francisco, CA 94102

Miette Patisserie
Ferry Building Marketplace, Shop 10
San Francisco, CA 94111

Acme Bread Company
Ferry Building Marketplace, Shop #15
San Francisco, CA


Pleen and I aren’t really fans of organized tours. OK, let’s be honest. Pleen and I are the kind of people who make fun of organized tours and the people who take them. It’s not fair or logical, but there it is.

Well, perhaps we’re opening our perspectives in our old age, because we did two tours and loved them both. One was a Segway tour of San Francisco that was an utter blast and yielded the most goober-ish shot of the entire trip

The other was a Scharffen Berger factory tour (for Pleen, “pilgrimage” is a more accurate descriptor) that was fascinating and inspiring . . . and generated a close second.

Electric Tour Company
757 Beach Street
San Francisco, CA 94109-1218

Scharffen Berger
914 Heinz Avenue,
Berkeley, CA 94710

Great Stuff and a Great Mix:
Everywhere you turn in the bay area great ingredients abound. The earth and the sea give up more great edible stuff than you can imagine. From this surfeit, cooks and confectioners of all backgrounds go to town and create wonderful food.

There's so much that’s good that the old ghetto-ization of food has broken down. It’s not about a geography of Chinatowns or Italian neighborhoods. Nor do the cuisine classifications of Continental or pan-Asian apply. The old borders just can’t contain all that’s happening.

Malaysian nibbles prepared by a white guy in a hip urban neighborhood? Check. Beef tri-tip dressed in cilantro sauce from a Brazilian guy in a parking lot shack? Yup. Cantonese family cuisine from a suburban mall abutting vineyards? Of course. Whether you want a $5 sandwich, a $10 plate of noodles, a $28 fillet of swordfish, or a $50 whole snapper, it applies across price points. It all makes sense. It’s all great. None of it is out of place because the strictures of place seem infinitely expanded.

2030 Union St
San Francisco, CA 94123

Brazil Cafe
1983 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704

Koi Garden
4288 Dublin Blvd
Dublin, CA 94568


Anonymous said...

Just for the record, I can get you home from Dulles airport for less than $5. Granted, you have one (1) bus to metro transfer, but the 5-A to Dulles is a dream come true.

Jawper said...

That's the one that goes from Rosslyn to IAD? Yea. It's WAY cool.