24 Hours in San Francisco, CA

I decided to stay in San Francisco an additional 24 hours after the official end of the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival so I could engage in a little sightseeing and shenanigans with my non-blogging friend Jess. There are a lot of ways you could spend 24 hours in San Francisco; here is one of them. If you’re looking for an “experience it like a local” itinerary like my post about Asheville, NC, you will be disappointed. However if you want to get in a little sightseeing, a little wandering, and a great deal of mayhem, I suggest you go down this path with me.

We started our day at La Boulange Bakery in the Financial District. That thing in the photo that looks like a bowl of espresso soup? That’s a soy latte. A soy latte that was larger than my head. I would show you a photo of that latte in front of Jess’s face to prove it to you, but I’m afraid that I would consequently lose a friend. Jess looks like she hasn’t had her coffee yet in that photo and it’s a little scary. She would never forgive me for posting that on the internet. (Scroll down to the kimono picture to see another photo of us that I’ve posted against my better judgment)

We had egg sandwiches for breakfast, hers with bacon on a croissant and mine with avocado on multigrain bread. The fresh fruit on the side was delicious and the sandwiches kept us full for hours of walking around the city.

Which is why a purchase of macarons was completely unnecessary. But we did it anyway. How could you pass up a pumpkin spice macaron on a brisk and beautiful day? So we picked up two, a pumpkin spice and a coconut, and held on to them for later.

Full of coffee and breakfast, we set out on a long uphill walk towards Chinatown. I struggled a little on the hills because I was still in a walking cast for my foot/ankle injury. We just took it slow and snapped photos along the way.

Finally we made it to Chinatown and immersed ourselves in the sights, sounds and smells of the Northwest corner of the neighborhood. Here there was less English being spoken and fewer tourists. There were a lot of locals picking up their groceries and perusing row after row of dried seafood products and countless varieties of exotic herbs like ginseng.

We walked eastward to a more crowded section of the neighborhood and ducked in and out of small gift shops and peered in the windows of Chinese restaurants.

My favorite discovery was the Wok Shop, a small store crammed full of inexpensive kitchen tools and equipment, cookware and tableware. I picked up ten pairs of acrylic chopsticks for $4 and a few tea strainers and accessories. If I hadn’t been limited by the size of my suitcase, I probably would have left with much more.

 


We continued to walk North and back West towards North Beach, the neighborhood that Jess’s family is from. Several generations of her Italian American ancestors lived and worked in this vibrant neighborhood between Downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf. We were in search of another tourist attraction: clam chowder by the bay. However we were sidetracked by a fortuitous discovery.

Tucked into a corner of North Beach is a Rogue Nation Ale House! One of only two Rogue Meeting Halls outside of Oregon, the San Francisco Rogue bar is a hidden gem that we had not planned on finding. Needless to say, we enjoyed a liquid lunch. I sampled Dead Guy Ale, John-John Whiskey Barrel Dead Guy Ale, Brutal Bitter IPA, Double Chocolate Stout, Mocha Porter, and Morimoto Soba Ale. The vibe was very laid back and the selection was incredible. Onward we stumbled marched in search of real food.

We finally made it to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we were assaulted by seagulls, tripped up by tourists, and nearly knocked over by the smell of fresh seafood and sourdough bread.

At Boudin Bakery, I had a personal pizza on sourdough crust and Jess had clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. This place is crawling with people and birds and the food is mediocre but I recommend a visit anyway. The sights are so unique that, if you’re lucky enough to get to San Francisco, it’s just something you have to experience at least once.

From Fisherman’s Wharf we walked along the water towards the Presidio and took some photos of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Then we went up to Ghirardelli Square to check out Ghirardelli’s flagship chocolate shop. This is a great place to pick up souvenirs for friends back home. Jess and I picked up an 80-count bag of chocolate squares for our office. They lasted two days.

After all that walking, we decided to take a cab to our next adventure: 21st Amendment Brewery. I have been a fan of 21st Amendment since I first reviewed their watermelon wheat beer, Hell or High Watermelon. I have since become a fan of their Fireside Chat and Kyle enjoys their Brew Free or Die IPA. At the Foodbuzz Festival tasting pavilion, I tasted their brand new beer Allies Win the War. I wanted more. You may recall that the first time I had 21st Amendment’s beer, I drank it out of my Baltimore Ravens pint glass. So this was the natural choice for a bar to watch the Ravens beat the Steelers last Sunday night. It was a great bar and a beautiful experience.

And then it was time to celebrate.

At this point in our adventure, the details get a little fuzzy. Going out in San Francisco was weird. The bars close at strange times, the locals can’t seem to hold their liquor, and finding a decent place to have a drink and chat felt oddly like an episode of the Amazing Race. Or Survivor. We were in a foreign land, surrounded by strange intoxicated people (way too early for intoxication to be an acceptable physical state), in a race to get to the bars before they close. What resulted: closing three bars an hour apart each, and making friends with other out-of-towners who were equally perplexed by the social situation.

Here is my advice:

  1. Get ready in your brand new silk robes from Chinatown. You will feel pretty. Oh so pretty. Then change out of them into real clothes so as not to make it too weird.
  2. Create a gameplan and look up bar closing times before heading out.
  3. Do not follow the advice of the hotel concierge, who will send you to a strange dark bar with a live band playing Billy Joel’s greatest hits that is filled with men twice your age who want to watch you creepily.
  4. Head out early and pace yourself. Don’t be like a local.
  5. Find a group of people who are not native to San Francisco and are good at drinking without getting sloppy. A good place to find other people who can hang is kitschy touristy places like the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. (We found a group of Swedish pharmaceutical salesmen and executives that had not yet adjusted to the time difference. I think we should get extra points for that.)
  6. Make the most of the situation. If you are with awesome people, you will find a way to make a terrible bar situation an epic adventure.

I can’t recommend any good nightlife spots to you based on my lack of preparation on the subject. Maybe someone can point me in the right direction for next time. Although having wonderful bar and restaurant recommendations and a strict itinerary probably would not have been nearly as much fun as the 24 hours of spontaneous wandering that we experienced on this trip. Maybe the laid back west coast mentality rubbed off on us and led us on this adventure of randomness. I’m not really sure how it happened but I am glad it did.

If you would like a little more structure on your trip, maybe you could take some of my recommendations below. Here are all the places we hit in 24 hours (minus the margarita-driven ones that I’d rather not share with you).

La Boulange Bakery 222 Sutter Street, Financial District, Open Daily 7AM-7PM

The Wok Shop, 718 Grant Ave, Chinatown, Open Daily 10AM-6PM

Rogue Ales Public House, 673 Union Street, North Beach, Open Sun-Thurs 12PM-12AM, Fri-Sat 12PM-2AM

Boudin Bakery, 160 Jefferson Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, Open Sun-Thurs 8AM-9:30PM, Fri-Sat 8AM-10PM

Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Point Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chocolate shop open Sun-Thurs 9AM-11PM, Fri-Sat 9AM-12AM

21st Amendment Brewpub, 563 2nd Street, SOMA, Open Mon-Thurs 11:30AM-12:00AM, Fri-Sat 11:30AM-1:00AM, Sun 10:00AM-12:00AM

Foodbuzz Festival 2011

This weekend I attended the 3rd annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival in San Francisco, CA. It was a whirlwind adventure and I am so happy to have met many warm, creative and inspiring bloggers. I also enjoyed samples from some wonderful food brands and benefited from excellent programming through the breakout sessions.

I arrived on Friday at noon local time. After a delightful lunch at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, I went to the festival registration and picked up my SWAG bag and credentials. I enlisted the help of a large cappuccino from Bread and Cocoa in order to unpack and organize my belongings and get settled in.

Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee

The blogger gift bag was a little heavy on the chocolate, but I’m not complaining.

After organizing my things, I freshened up and headed to the Welcome Dinner at Terra Gallery, where we mingled over Sabra hummus appetizers and Bonny Doon Vineyards wine. I especially enjoyed the light and refreshing albariƱo. At the main event, we helped ourselves to buffet style dining. There were several Foodbuzz blogger-inspired dishes. My favorite was the beet ravioli, and the lentil salad was a close second.

The desserts were all created by Yigit Pura, winner of Top Chef: Just Desserts season one. My favorite was the mulled wine macaron with spiced blackberry cream.

For the rest of the evening, I chatted with new friends and enjoyed a local brew.

By the way, this show is brought to you by the letter Alcohol.

Say hello to Sarah, Laura and Karen! These creative women have unique voices in the blogosphere and their sites are worth checking out. I had a lovely time getting to know them.

Saturday morning began with a delicious breakfast spread and the beginning of group sessions.

After the Taking Your Blog to the Next Level panel discussion, I was lucky enough to get one of Mama Pea’s dough balls. How sweet was it that she brought gifts for everyone and had dozens of dough balls on her at all times? I think she’s a genius.

I attended two sessions after the panel discussion: The DSLR-Free Zone: Taking Gawk-worthy Photos with Lo-tech Equipment, and Beyond the Written Word: Making the Most of Audio and Video. Warning: there might be another video on the way soon. But hey, don’t worry. You’re not alone. It’s my worst nightmare too! I just feel that I have to test what I’ve learned.

But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

After the sessions I took a long walk to the Ferry Building.

The Saturday farmers’ market was packed with people. I tasted some juicy, sweet Frog Hollow Farm pears and bought some jarred jams and chutneys from the farm table. I also found some beautiful persimmons!

After the Ferry Building Marketplace, I took another long walk to the taste pavilion, where I sampled a plethora of goodies from the festival sponsors.

Dry Creek Valley wine. I probably shouldn't start with this on an empty stomach... Or should I?

 

Mission Mini Cupcakes

Judy's Breadsticks

OXO Good Grips, of which I am SUCH a major fan.

21st Amendment Brewing, which I visited the very next day.

Special tasting of their brand new Allies Win the War

Redwood Hill Farm and Green Valley Organics

After working the room (of course), I rested my liver a bit by relaxing at the hotel for an hour or so, and then I got ready for the Gala Dinner, featuring a cooking demo by Tyler Florence.

My favorite comment of the night was T-Flo’s point that these days a blogger can post a recipe or an editorial and get the same amount of attention (in the form of page views, likes, etc.) that a major national publication can, which illustrates that blogging is democracy. I like that notion.

I loved how everywhere I went, people were taking photos of their food. I wasn’t the only one! For dinner I opted for the vegetarian entree, which was decent.

The dessert trio consisted of a sad little cold bread pudding, flanked by two delectable confections: a Scharffen Berger chocolate mousse and a Cowgirl Creamery cheesecake.

I bid my new blogger friends farewell and headed back to my hotel to curl up with a book and a hot tea before bed. I prepared myself for a crazy adventurous final day in San Francisco with one of my best friends. There were giant lattes, Chinatown shopping sprees, impromptu beer tastings, kimono fashion shows, and a whole lot of other things that I wouldn’t dare post (or even mention) on the internet.

And there were dozens of fluffy macarons. I promise I’ll tell you all about them next time.


Table for One at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA

When I booked my flight to San Francisco for the annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival, I decided to treat myself before the official festival began. I expected a hectic work week followed by an early morning flight and a jam-packed weekend of what can only be described as food blogger bliss. I wanted some quiet time and I deserved to have it at Alice Waters’ iconic Berkeley, CA restaurant, Chez Panisse. So I made a lunch reservation for one at the Chez Panisse Cafe.

When Chez Panisse opened its doors forty years ago, Alice Waters, the executive chef and owner, started a movement to build a food economy that is “good, clean, and fair.” She is a pioneer of the American cooking philosophy that promotes fresh, local, seasonal ingredients. She is an advocate for sustainable farming practices and food production. Alice Waters testified to the power of local sustainable food long before it became the fast-growing trend that it is today. Because this is a philosophy that guides my food choices, I was thrilled to go to the place where it all began and enjoy a delicious meal upon my arrival in San Francisco.

Some of my friends thought I was crazy for making the trek out to Berkeley to dine solo. When I told people about my plans, I received a few looks of pity, that I would have to endure the lonely experience of sitting at a table for one for an hour that would inevitably be a string of uncomfortable experiences: where to look? what to do? can these people tell I’m eavesdropping on their conversation just to satisfy my desperate yearning for human interaction?

Let's try a half-full mentality, shall we?

I experienced none of these things. Instead I nestled into my corner table, read every word of a beautiful menu, and took in every decorative element of the simply elegant cafe. I was not distracted by gossip from my tablemate. I was not rushed into a menu selection based on someone else’s readiness to order. Surrounded by people enjoying simple, fresh, seasonal food, I did not feel alone.

The meal began with bread and water, served in a beaker-like carafe, delicately engraved with the restaurant logo.

I selected the rigatoni alla Norma. I almost went for a salad because I felt that the pasta would be better for dinner. However as I watched other people’s plates come out, I noticed that several people had ordered full entrees and they all looked amazing. Besides, when will I ever be back at Chez Panisse for dinner? So as not to miss my opportunity, I just went for it. While I waited, I read Holly Hughes’ Best Food Writing 2011 and took in the decor.

Located directly above the main dining room (dinner only, prix fixe), the Chez Panisse Cafe offers a more casual environment with an a la carte menu. Mirrors around the room reflected the warm sunlight and the walls are papered with a collection of past daily menus. A few caught my eye, like Lunch for the First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. I mused on what I would serve for lunch of Hillary Clinton was coming over, or Michelle Obama. I suppose you would serve what you do best and hope that she liked the selection.

The housemade rigatoni was incredible. I learned earlier this year what a difference fresh ricotta salata makes on a dish and experienced it again here. I was also struck by the uniformity of the vegetables in size and shape and made a mental note to work on my knife skills. I ate every bite on the whole plate and didn’t apologize for it. The servers were very attentive and offered coffee and dessert. I was really impressed with how friendly they were; sometimes when you visit an iconic restaurant such as this one, there is a hint (or a deluge) of snobbery from the waitstaff. Not the case at Chez Panisse. They were delightful.

Yes, I was stuffed but of course I didn’t pass up dessert. I ordered the Frog Hollow Farm pear crisp with toasted almond ice cream. The pears were so fresh and the crisp was exactly what it should be: light and crispy. The ice cream was to die for – how did they achieve the perfect toasted almond flavor? It was warm and smoky and nutty and everything I had hoped it would be. I couldn’t finish the whole thing because I was so full, but I had several perfect bites before I pushed the plate away.

After lunch I strolled through Berkeley and reflected on the meal. Dining alone is not all that bad. I felt way more present in the moment. I saw, smelled, tasted, and heard so much more than I would have if I had dined with a companion. I enjoyed every fresh, local, seasonal bite and was inspired by the dishes I tried. I love sharing food experiences with friends and family, but I will definitely do this again sometime. When I returned to my hotel forty minutes later, refreshed and inspired, I noticed the one downfall of dining alone. There is no one there to tell you when you have fresh, local, seasonal basil in your teeth. Oh well.