At the Wharf

If you don’t like crowds and all kinds of tourist traps, Fisherman’s Wharf is probably not the best place to be.  But if it is your first time in San Francisco, I would recommend an hour or two to wander around, sample some fresh sourdough bread and feast on Dungeness crabs.

And with a tourist in tow (a staff M came with us on this trip), we headed out to the Wharf the morning of our departure and spent our last few hours in SF doing just that.

Fisherman’s Wharf is best known for Pier 39, the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, Ghirardelli Square and a lot more, it is however most famous for (at least as far as I’m concerned) the restaurants and stands that serves fresh seafood, more notably its Dungeness Crabs and Clam Chowder on sourdough bread.  While you can actually get great tasting Dungeness crabs elsewhere like R&G in Chinatown and a favorite back then, Thanh Long at the Sunset district

and the sourdough bread over at Acme is, in my opinion, more superior, my brother always says that, “experiencing it where it all started is always more meaningful”.  I agree.

And Fisherman’s Wharf is the epicenter of San Francisco’s famed Dungeness crabs. The fresh street Dungeness crabs sold by vendors are expensive but very fresh – ask for fresh crabs and you’ll get one that is freshly cooked for you.

Even before there were sidewalk vendors and restaurants, some of the fishermen would set up cauldrons of boiling water and cook the freshly caught crabs, handing them out in paper cups as a crab cocktail.  Many restaurants and vendors today continue the tradition of steaming crab cauldrons in front of their place of business and still serve them on paper cups.  One may however opt to order a whole cooked crab to take home. Firm and sweet, this crustacean has played a significant role in defining San Francisco’s culture – from the boat docks of Fisherman’s Wharf and the Italian restaurants nearby to the Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants around the city today.

Clam Chowder on sourdough bread is my brother’s favorite and Boudin Café is where he usually goes to get them.  Born in the Gold Rush, Boudin Bakery is the oldest business in San Francisco.  Known for its sourdough bread, the bakery still uses the same starter yeast bacteria culture it developed in 1849.

Although their main bakery is in the Richmond district, their Baker’s Hall at the Wharf is their flagship place.  It may not be the best today; it surely is still a very decent piece of sourdough bread and is and will always be synonymous to San Francisco.

I love San Francisco and no matter how often I visit, I will never tire of it.  It is after all my favorite city.  So until next time…

Sean Lions and Pier 39

Credits:  Papers from Moninda’s Sea Memories;  Elements from PouYou and Me kit;  Journal Paper from Scrapmatter’s Life Little Surprises kit

California Sea Lions are found along the coast of eastern North Pacific from the coast of Vancouver all the way to Baja California in Mexico.  They are known to be the most intelligent of all sea lions.  These playful curious animals are highly social as well, which makes them adapt easily to artificial environments.  Because of this, California sea lions are commonly found in public displays in zoos and marine parks and are even trained by the US Navy for certain military operations hence.

Pier 39 is admittedly so touristy and is crowded with shoppers and souvenir seekers.  So why am I there, you might ask?  Wildlife fascinates me and one attraction that appealed to me lies just outside the shopping arcades, on the marina next door.  They are known as the Pier 39 sea lions.

Some of California sea lions took over the “K” dock of Pier 39 in 1989 becoming immediate tourists favorites.   They can be found sunbathing, barking and up to their old antics at the marina.  They showed up shortly after the 1989 earthquake arriving in droves probably chasing after an abundant run of herring in the area.  They soon took over the dock by January 1990 and since then been entertaining both visitors and locals alike.  During winter the population increases while it dwindles during the summer months, as many would migrate south to the Channel Islands to breed.  Outside of the breeding season, they often gather on marinas and wharves so they start coming back sometime around late July.

Today it is a far cry from the heyday when they reached over 1,700 at one point.   At the end of 2009, nearly all had left apparently for Oregon – again in search of food.  It was explained that the abrupt change in the classic upwelling pattern caused their food source to shift further offshore.  Good heavens, they slowly migrated back in February 2009, remained and hopefully increase again in population.

A Side Trip to Danville

Whenever I am in the US, my time with my cousin and good friend S has always been short – only a few hours for either lunch or dinner depending on how our schedules connect.  On my recent trip to the Bay Area, we made it a point to spend a couple of days together starting with a mini family reunion at her parents’ home in San Ramon and ending with lunch I immensely enjoyed in downtown Danville.

Just 30 miles east of San Francisco, Danville, the heart of the San Ramon Valley was a pleasant surprise.  As with many towns, it features various interesting shops, art galleries and upscale eateries.  One such eatery is Sideboard, a neighborhood café at the old Danville Hotel.

It spells quaint the minute I walked in with its charming French country décor.  One gets a choice to dine on wooden tables and cozy chairs indoors or on the mosaic tiled patio tables outside – which we chose despite the chilly weather.

A perfect choice for summer but if like us, one still prefers to sit outdoors on a cold winter’s day, they offer heater stands and thick woolen blankets to keep one warm.  Having a meal at Sideboard is like having dinner at your good friend’s home as the owner Ford Andrews goes around talking to diners as if we are his long-lost friends.  The self-service style is evidence to the friendly casual atmosphere it has come to project.  And the food is comforting and personal.  Ford’s wife Erin uses regionally grown produce, which she personally hunts for at the Farmer’s market nearby or at the Ferry building in San Francisco.  What we had that day:

A must try!  Fried Brussel Sprouts.  One after the other, I just kept popping these gorgeously fried babies into my mouth.  The best dish I had here.

I went for the comforting Pulled pork sandwich while my brother chose this delectable bowl of Chili (a favorite of his).

The scones, he said, went so well with the chili, he asked for second servings (of the scones), which Ford gladly gave.

Also not to be missed is their famous burger made from Prather Ranch beef.

This homemade Banana bread and a mug of Blue Bottle coffee is the perfect cap to a wonderful lunch.

My visit to Sideboard had me wishing I lived in the area so I can make it my regular go-to café – a great place to kill time with a good cup of coffee and terrific homemade desserts. Thank you S for taking me there.   🙂

Useful Info

Sideboard Cafe
The Danville Hotel
411 Hartz Ave.,
Danville, CA
(925) 984-2713

Rustic Italian in Sausalito

My mom once told my dad while driving around Sausalito that it would be lovely to own a house there — overlooking the marina would even be lovelier.  Gulp!   😯   I want one too.   😛  Its neighborhood oozes with charm, the steep wooded hillside on one side and the water on the other faintly reminds me of the Mediterranean, although Positano it isn’t.

With the wide choice of restaurants from charming outdoor cafes and bistros to chic dining right on the waterfront, this endearing city of Marin County has captivated my heart since long ago.

Yes, the food and the quaintness played a big role in endearing me to this town.

We had a few days to spare before heading home to Manila and we decided that a beautiful lunch in a beautiful city is the best way to spend our last day with our chef-brother and Sausalito it was.

We got a table at Poggio, a classic Italian restaurant at the Casa Madrona Hotel and Spa overlooking the bridgeway and the Sausalito marina.  Chef Paul McNee’s menu featuring Northern Italian classics, changes daily.  Rustic and soulful, he uses local ingredients and prepares nearly everything in-house from cured salami and prosciutto to fresh pastas.

For our starter, we had this beautifully prepared Octopus with Pork Belly confit, frisée, french beans and poached egg.  What an array of texture and flavor.

I had this light potato gnocchi tossed with a rabbit ragout – comparable in taste to our Chicken Adobo and the rabbit taste so much like chicken too.

I wish I had ordered this.  Tagliatelle with crispy pig face.  A winner I tell you, I wanted to devour the whole plate, except that it wasn’t mine.  Imagine large chunks of crispy pork with the fat melting in your mouth.  And the olives and the chilies added more levels of goodness to this excellent dish.

Yes, my trip to San Francisco is indeed a trip full of feasting.  I’m happy to say though that hours of slaving away at the gym during lunch break have helped me shed most of the pounds gained on this trip by now.   😀

Useful Info:

Poggio
777 Bridgeway ,
Sausalito, CA
(415) 332-7771
www.poggiotrattoria.com

R&G Lounge

Credits:  Papers from Lana Koopman Digital Designs — squares paper, striped paper and turq diamonds;  Elements from Pink and me kit by Pouyou

When in San Francisco, a visit to Chinatown is a must even on limited time.  Tired from all the walking we did at the Fancy Food Show, my brothers and cousins decided that an early comforting dinner was called for.  R&G Lounge at the corner of Clay and Kearny came to mind.

Their famous salt and pepper crabs deep-fried to perfection – sweet, juicy and some parts crispy.

And then there’s the Peking Duck with its golden brown crispy skin and juicy meat.

The Beef Brisket and Turnip soup cooked in a clay pot, I particularly liked because the flavorful broth reminds me of a similar soup my grandma used to make.

Recognized as one of the best Chinese restaurant in San Francisco Bay Area, R&G is a go-to for reasonably priced traditional Cantonese meal.  From a restaurant that seats 50 people when it opened in 1985, it is today a 3-storey restaurant that can serve up to 250 people.

Despite the expansion, lines are still long which only says that people continue to flock there for one good reason – the mouth-watering dishes that come out of their kitchen.

Useful Info:

R&G Lounge
631 Kearny St.,
San Francisco, CA
Tel:  (415) 982-7877
http://www.rnglounge.com

Incanto and Offal Cuisine

Incanto is a rustic Italian style restaurant in Noe Valley, an upscale neighborhood and home to many urban professionals with young families.  It is not your ordinary Italian restaurant serving only Italian classics; there are always options on Incanto’s menu for the more adventurous gastronome.  Executive chef Chris Cosentino of “The Next Iron Chef” fame is known for his “Offal” cooking as seen on his blog.

And what is offal cooking, you may ask?  It is a word derived from the slaughterhouse phrase “off fall” or the pieces that “fall off” a carcass when being butchered – Not limited to entrails but also includes the heart, liver, brain and lungs.  In Filipino, laman loob and although not that uncommon in our cuisine, it has however only recently become recognized in the “foodie” community of America.

Known to often feature unusual ingredients such as lamb tripe and beef hearts in his menu, Cosentino is heard to still refuse balut!  That says a lot about our delicacy, doesn’t it?   😯

A restaurant find like this is not unthinkable especially if planned by my chef-foodie brother.

A lighted showcase of Boccalone goodies greets you as you enter the cozy, rustic restaurant, which instantly stole my attention and eventually my heart.  We were early for our reservations so I had time to study the menu and noted that they had more Italian classics than offal offerings, which is probably more sensible in the end as adventurous gastronome, albeit growing, is still just a small population and probably more so in the US.

We started with these beautiful breads, which are wonderful with the tapenade.  Anyway, for our starters, we ordered a Boccalone Salumi Platter in Boar.

Not really understanding what “boar” stood for until we saw this huge platter in front of us.  The options on the menu were Piglet, Sow and Boar; apparently it was describing the size of the platter.  Hearing so many good things about Boccalone Salumeria, I wasn’t worried about it.  The 4 of us devoured almost everything on the platter.

I loved it so much, on my last day of this trip, I went to their store at the Ferry Building and brought home some Nduja and Brown Sugar & fennel Salamis.  Needless to say, they’re awesomely good!

My brother had this Handkerchief Pasta and Rustic Pork Ragu, which I found delightful.  This is the classic dish while mine was more offal.

It’s Oxtail, Sweetbread with Rutabaga and Dandelion Salsa.  Oxtail is pretty common in my part of the world and as one would expect, I enjoyed this dish a lot.  It was tender, the salsa added crisp texture to the sweetbread, which is not a favorite if truth be told and I’ll take kidney or even brain over it.  Sweetbreads are the thymus and the pancreatic glands of young cows, lamb or pigs.

And then there was dessert!

Chocolate-Nduja ice cream and almonds – my choice as I am so into ice cream (or anything sweet for that matter) infused with some sort of savory flavor nowadays.  Nduja (en-doo-ya) is a spicy spreadable salami.  I have to say, the spicy, salty salami brought this chocolate dessert to another level.

Quince, Pecorino, Moliterno and Hazelnut butter.  

Myrtle Panna Cotta and huckleberries.  Two-thumbs up!

At one point through our course, a waiter knocked off a glass of wine – good thing our friend was wearing something dark – and this came on the house.  I’m liking this restaurant all the more.   🙂

If you find yourself in the neighborhood or somewhere near the neighborhood and if you want to add to your gastronomic adventures, include Incanto and/or Boccalone in your list of must-tries.

Useful Info:

Incanto
1550 Church Street,
Noe Valley, San Francisco, CA
(415) 641-4500
Website:  http://incanto.biz/
 
Boccalone Salumeria
1 Ferry Building #21
San Francisco, CA
(415) 433-6500

Reminiscing

Lombard Street overlooking Russian Hills

For a short while I called San Francisco home.  Straight from a pampered life, away from the watchful eyes of my parents, living (not exactly) alone in the Richmond District was uncharted territory (for us then).  Albeit a carefree time of my life, it was there that I learned independence and self-reliance.   It was one of the best times of my life.

I don’t return very often but I recently found myself back in San Francisco again and again.  Although our visit was mostly because of work, my brother and I managed to squeeze in some time for family, friends and some reminiscing.   I likewise seized the opportunity to spend precious time with my brothers – one arrived with me and was my roommate then, the other met us there from Louisiana where he now (temporarily) resides.

The bar escapes the need for reservations.

We met up with friends at the Slanted Door lounge bar no sooner than we landed.

Having Slanted Door’s signature drink:  Ginger Limeade with Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka.

The next day we decided to pay our old neighborhood a visit,

passed by our old apartment and had lunch at our favorite hangout.

Thai Cafe along Geary St. has good food at student-friendly prices thus a favorite hangout.

That weekend we spent a lot of time visiting old-time favorites.

Choco Fudge Sundae at The Ghirardelli Square

Breakfast at Mel’s Drive-in Diner.

Although many of those who stayed behind after school moved out of San Francisco, they remained within the Bay Area.  Some still lived in the same house we used to hangout in.  Once you’ve lived there, you can’t really shake San Francisco out of your system, can you?

Stockton St.  I used to walk this street a lot (in daytime, or course) to go to school.

It was an awesome weekend reminiscing about the juvenile things we’ve done and had gotten away with.  How we survived those reckless years was a miracle.  Ah to be young again… even for just a weekend.