Contents : Artist Leo Villareal | B. Patisserie | Caffe Delle Stella | F-Line Trolley | F.S.C. Barber | Kitchen Story | Mission Cheese | Restaurant Gary Danko | Saison | San Francisco Museum of Modern Art | Wise Sons Deli
“San Francisco has only one drawback. ‘Tis hard to leave.” ― Rudyard Kipling
Known as the City by the Bay, San Francisco is a place of almost unparalleled visual charms, one of which is its magnificent landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge. Linking the city to Marin County, the Golden Gate overshadows its “little cousin,” the Bay Bridge. That has changed, however, as the Bay Bridge has been transformed by artist Leo Villareal who has installed 25,000 white lights along its suspension cables. The bridge’s new light design made its debut in the spring of 2013 and is yet another reason to fall in love with the city.
If the past is any indication of the present, and the present portends the future, then Belinda Leong’s resume alone guarantees her new B. Patisserie will be a success. Ms. Leong has previously worked at San Francisco’s Gary Danko and Copenhagen’s NOMA, two restaurants that are the joy and envy of other chefs and food aficionados. The highly respected pastry chef has opened her own place on California Street, a showcase of her brilliant interpretation of French sweets.
In wandering around the city’s Civic Center neighborhood on a chilly Autumn day, I stepped into Caffe Delle Stella to warm up. The Italian trattoria serves authentic cuisine in a casual setting, is moderately priced, and a great place to have a meal before a show in the theater district or a concert at the nearby Opera House. I had lentil soup and capellini with tomatoes and basil and the bill was less than $ 20.00. I recommended the restaurant to local friends who have enjoyed a number of meals there since. I returned to San Francisco several months later and made it a point to visit Della Stella again. I was as impressed with its charm, service, and food quality as I was during my first visit.
F-Line Trolley. The City-by-the-Bay is one of the most walkable cities in the world although the incredibly steep hills will prove a challenge to some and a godsend to healthier visitors. Luckily, San Francisco has an extensive public transportation system, the MUNI, comprised of both rail and bus systems. One of its best features is the F-Line Trolley which travels above ground from the Embarcadero, down Market Street, to the city’s Castro neighborhood and back. One of San Francisco’s main thoroughfares, Market Street, bisects the city from the upper northeast where the Embarcadero is located to the lower, southwestern part. The fare is only $ 2.00 and allows you to traverse a rather significant distance. Your return is free if you re-board within 2 hours of your initial trip.
“San Francisco is the only city I can think of that can survive all the things you people are doing to it and still look beautiful.”
― Frank Lloyd Wright
For the man who has everything, stop by the West coast outpost of Barber & Supply, i.e., F.S.C. Barber, on Valencia Street in the city’s Mission District. The store is a throwback to another era and features affordable haircuts, excellent grooming products, and the ultimate indulgence―shaves with straight-edge razors.
It’s safe to say many consider bacon one of the four major food groups. Can you blame people ? When prepared well, the slightly crisp meat adds a punch to just about any dish. In this regard, chef Steven Choi has created not just a menu featuring great bacon. He’s created a destination menu and dining establishment because of bacon. His Kitchen Story, located in the city’s famed Castro neighborhood, features it’s very own Millionaire’s bacon, a sweet and savory side dish so spectacular it’s easy to forget just how great the rest of the menu is―especially their weekend brunch one, featuring great egg dishes with Asian ingredients and cooking techniques. Highly recommended are the ricotta hot cakes which are fluffy and yet slightly crisp around the edges. You also can’t go wrong with the BLT, a sandwich so delicious it could easily knock mac-and-cheese off the perch of one’s list of favorite comfort foods.
The city’s reputation as a haven for those devoted to artisanal foods is further cemented with Mission Cheese, located on Valencia Street in the Mission District. Small and intimate, Mission Cheese is devoted to savoring various hand-made cheeses; pairing them with wines or pickled vegetables; showcasing them in sandwiches; or with pate on a variety of charcuterie boards. The prices are more than reasonable and the incredibly friendly staff encourages sampling.
I had the pleasure of dining at Restaurant Gary Danko on Hyde Street. Chef Danko, recognized by the James Beard Foundation, justly earned another 5-star rating from Mobil Travel, combining cuisines from around the globe with surgical-like precision in technique. The staff is friendly without being overbearing and quietly meticulous when preparing the table from one course to the next. The food is exceptional. We enjoyed the following :
― French red pumpkin soup with butternut squash, apples, and bacon
― Lobster Salad with chestnut mousse, persimmons, mango
― Savory tart with wild mushroom ragout, cipollini onions
― Shiitake dusted scallops with zucchini basil purée
― Lemon pepper duck breast with duck hash, celery root purée
― Almond crusted pork tenderloin with braised cheeks
― Selection of farmhouse and artisanal Cheeses
― Trio of crème brûlée. Let’s assume creme brulee can be compared to a car. What they serve here is a Lamborghini. The carmelized tops broke with the perfect amount of crackle; the taste flawless; and the custard itself was creamy.
Perhaps the best description of Restaurant Saison comes from the owners themselves :
“Our aim is to provide something exciting but real. We try to cook without the excess so the fundamental flavors can reach their deepest points and allow the truth of an ingredient to show itself. After a meal, at any level, we should feel nourished, satisfied, and healthy.”
The open floor plan of the restaurant, incorporating the kitchen with the tables, is so ubiquitous these days, its surprising not to find it when a new restaurant opens. With Saison, however, it does not seem like an affect. Their philosophy, that the dining experience should be a great one and involve the tactile sensations of carefully chosen materials, fabrics and utensils along with memorable food, is a natural fit, therefore, with an open plan. Having said that, Saison is admittedly not a place where you drop in on a whim. First, you probably won’t get a table. Second, you can expect to easily pay $ 250.00 / person for the nearly 20-course meal, roughly on par with some of the world’s most sought-after restaurants, including California’s very own French Laundry. Rather, its one of those places you go to for special celebrations. Also, because the Michelin-starred restaurant’s emphasis is on their tasting menus, you may be put off a little by the fact you have little say in what you eat and the order in which its served. Nonetheless, its exceptional destination dining and the wow factor is not in short supply.
San Francisco scored an enviable double-home run when Wise Sons, a noteworthy and genuine Jewish deli, opened at the city’s Jewish Museum. The first success, of course, belong’s to famed architect Daniel Libeskind’s design for the building itself.
The second noteworthy achievement is the arrival of Wise Sons. Although the City by the Bay is a fantastic food destination, its number of Jewish delis is scarce to say the least. The euphoria and sigh of relief that greeted the news Wise Sons was opening an outpost at the museum, therefore, was understandable. Old-school style corned beef sandwiches, and those made with hot pastrami, are the standouts, easily bringing back memories of the great delis which characterize cities on the East Coast. Not to be overlooked either is the Matzo Ball soup with a side of challah. While you’re enjoying a great meal in a worthy space, don’t forget to grab some rugelach to go.