Tuesday, March 13, 2012

San Francisco!!

We went to San Francisco last week!! We haven't taken a lot of family vacations, except to visit relatives, so this was a great change of pace for us. We've also never been that far west before. (When I was a kid I went to Chicago with my grandparents once, but that was as far west as any of us have been.)

We made the most of it! We found fun things to do every day we were there. We took an open top bus tour, we went to the Exploratorium, we rode over the Golden Gate Bridge several times, we went to Alcatraz, we took road trips to Sausalito and Sonoma, and we hiked through the redwoods, among other activities. We also ate, and ate, and ate. The food out there is better than here.

I want to blog about the entire trip, but since we did so much I'll break it up. Today I'll list the wonderful, wonderful restaurants we found. The Eldest gets credit for most of them; she is a whiz with her smart phone. We also got recommendations from locals and a guide book that did not disappoint. We ate out for every lunch and dinner and did a lot of snacking. We mostly ate breakfast in our room since we had a microwave and refrigerator. (I eat oatmeal every day, so if I can boil water I have breakfast.)

On the plane:
We flew Virgin America. It was OK but super cramped, which gets really uncomfortable on a six plus hour flight. The flight attendants were very nice and let us move around on the plane since there were only about 20 people aboard. (We took a red eye just to have more seat selection. We couldn't get seats together on the earlier flights, and with kids, that's just not an option.) The food was OK for pre-packaged with a variety for special diets. They had in-flight entertainment but it was limited. There were a few movies, some TV shows, free satellite TV with limited channel selection, and some games. They charged for a lot of the content. But I digress- this post is supposed to be about the food!

Day 1, 3/3/12
Lunch: We hit the incredible farmer's market at the Ferry Building. It was PACKED with really long lines but we managed to get lunch at the Cowgirl Creamery. We lucked out and found a table outside where we watched the ferries go in and out as we ate. The food was really good; we ordered soup and sandwiches.

Snacks: I bought some dark chocolate almond bark at the Ferry Building and didn't advertise it to anyone. (I didn't exactly hide it, but I didn't make a point of offering it around, either.) ;) I also picked up fresh bread that was out of this world, gourmet raisins, and walnuts. (I never knew there were so many varieties of raisin!!) We tore off hunks of the bread (even though it was a sandwich loaf) later in the day when we were waiting in line for a cable car and it was a welcome treat, let me tell you. I added the raisins and walnuts to my morning oatmeal for the rest of the trip. We left the Ferry Building area and walked toward Pier 39. Along the way I found some chocolate covered strawberries that were so yummy.

Dinner: We went to a hole in the wall restaurant in China Town called The Clay Pot for dinner. It was old and grubby with lousy service, but the food!! There were mounds and mounds of food (we definitely over ordered, but we made a fair dent in everything) and it was all good. There were a lot of Chinese people eating there so you know it's more authentic than the typical American/Chinese eatery; it was fascinating to watch the pros manipulate their chopsticks.

Snacks and drinks: We found a Whole Foods on the way home from dinner so I had to run in, and I'm glad I did! Way better than the Whole Foods we go to. Just the bulk aisle alone- we counted about a dozen different bins of flour right off the bat. Chickpea flour and whole wheat flour and rice flour and on and on- it was amazing! We bought seltzer water (which is all I drink, as long as I can get it) and a knife to cut the bread purchased at the farmer's market, along with a few other miscellaneous items like organic "Jolly Beans" from the bulk aisle that we munched on for the rest of the trip.

Day 2, 3/4/12
Lunch: We took an open top tour bus to Fisherman's Wharf where we ate at the Boudin Bread Factory. They had a cafe/cafeteria type place downstairs but we went upstairs to the Boudin Bistro, a full service restaurant. The girls ordered soup in bread bowls- yum. I might as well get this out of the way- we are usually vegetarian but for the vacation we went pescatarian and ate sustainable fish and seafood, so I tried The Eldest's clam chowder. (Yum.) I don't remember specifically what I ordered as my entree but I remember it was really good! I do remember the dessert- we ordered Berries with Creme Anglaise to share, and there were spoon wars over it!

Snacks/Drinks: We went back over to China Town to the Red Blossom Tea Company. The Eldest wanted to go there and buy tea even though she hardly ever drinks it. I was so glad she dragged us into that store! The saleswoman was lovely; she spent a lot of time with us showing us/letting us smell the different teas, then she did a special tasting with two different types of tea we were considering. To call it a tasting does not do justice to what happened- she sat us down at a table and went through an elaborate ritual, warming the cups, heating the tea, etc., and finally pouring our samples into little tiny doll cups. It was absolutely mesmerizing; even The Wild Child drank his samples. We bought two bags of tea, one for us and one for our dear friend who watched our house for us while we were away.

Dinner: DH, Martha Jr., and I went to The Source. The Eldest found it for us but she didn't feel like going; neither did The Wild Child so we left them in the hotel room and headed out. We got off the bus in a deserted industrial area with no restaurants in sight- it was creepy! We wandered around a bit but finally found our way. The Source is a vegetarian/vegan restaurant with amazing food! We really enjoyed our meal and got take out for The Eldest and The Wild Child.

Day 3, 3/5/12
Lunch: We ate at Cafe Divine, a place in North Beach we wandered into randomly. It turned out to be really good too; have you noticed a trend here?

Dinner: This was our Alcatraz day so when we got off the boat we headed back to Pier 39. We ate at the Fog Harbor Fish House; OMG, another great meal.

Day 4, 3/6/12
Lunch: This was more of a brunch for us since we ordered breakfast food at the Bridgeway Cafe.

Dinner: After a day spent hiking in Muir Woods, with a disastrous end involving lost keys and a 4 hour wait for AAA, we got back to SF late. We passed by Mel's Diner and swerved in since it was still open!! The food was... diner food. My vegetarian sandwich was probably the worst item I had to eat the whole time we were there, but the shakes and sweet potato fries were to die for. The 1950's decor was fun and the kids would have enjoyed it more if the juke box had played the song we plugged in. It was really cramped, though; there weren't that many people there but I was stuck at a table that was practically on top of me with no room to move back. I was really uncomfortable, but I was too tired to care at that point; I just wanted to eat and get back to the room.

Day 5, 3/7/12
Lunch: We had to make a run to Target so we went into Daly City, right next door to SF. The Target was at the Serramonte Center, your basic, standard issue mall. There were a lot of places to eat that opened to the parking lot so we picked one, which turned out to be the Anderson Bakery and Cafe. Oh, happy day, I'm glad we went in there. It was out of this world good. I ordered the same sandwich I'd had at Mel's Diner the night before, but this time it was DELICIOUS. The bread, baby, the bread- it makes all the difference. The meal was so good I decided to stock up on snacks for later in the day. I got this wonderful little confection called a morning bun- I've never seen those before, but I am now addicted. They are kind of like a cinnamon bun but without the goo, more of a cinnamon sugar muffiny/roll kind of thing. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I got a few other things as well but the morning bun was the stand out.

Snacks: We had our snacks as a picnic at Golden Gate park in the Shakespeare Garden near the California Science Academy. It was cold, but there was an organic, gourmet ice cream truck at the curb so the kids all got ice cream to go with the munchies I picked up at the Anderson Bakery. (Gourmet ice cream! Right there, just waiting for us!!)

Drinks: We went to the Ghirardelli store in Ghirardelli Square for hot chocolate. Mine was so good but so rich! It reminded me of the chocolate drink from Barcelona that's super thick and rich. The kids got a more traditional hot chocolate and it came as hot milk with a few squares of chocolate to melt into it- fun and unique!

Dinner: We went back to North Beach for dinner at The Stinking Rose. Fun, fun, and oh, so garlicky! Don't eat there unless your significant other does, too, because you will have garlic breath for days. The food was absolutely delicious, but I don't think we'll need to eat anything with garlic on it for the next year. The Wild Child got a 40 clove roasted chicken, and I took a few bites. (Please don't tell the veg police on me!) OMG, it was THE. BEST. CHICKEN. I have ever tasted, ever. They didn't have garlic rolls like other Italian restaurants, you know, the kind with the garlic and olive oil soaking in when they bring it to you, but they did have amazing rolls that you put their sauteed-in-olive-oil garlic cloves onto. I liked it so much I bought a T-shirt.

Day 6, 3/8/12
Lunch: We ate at Cheese Plus, located a few doors down from our hotel. It was always hopping when we walked by so we decided to give it a try. It was pretty good! It's also a market and very green, as many places are out there. We ate outdoors at the sidewalk tables and watched the world go by.

Dinner: We had to go to the Haight/Ashbury area, so The Eldest found a tapas place called Cha Cha Cha. It was good but inconsistent; some of the dishes were better than others. Not so much on the plantanos; we're used to good plaintains from our area so theirs were too dry for our liking. Martha, Jr. complained that her food was too spicy. Other than that everything was fine. Not the greatest dining experience we had out there, but not the worst, either. The atmosphere was fun; very new age/hippy-ish.

Drinks/Snacks: The kids wanted ice cream from the Ben and Jerry's right on the intersection of Haight and Ashbury on the way back to our bus stop. I stopped in at a random coffee bar and got some hot chocolate.

Day 7, 3/9/12
Lunch: We drove to Berkley and had lunch at the Saturn Cafe, a veg place. The food was sooo good! More delicious sweet potato fries and shakes, but unlike Mel's all of the rest of the food was yummy, too. The Wild Child was NOT happy about eating at another veg restaurant, but even he ate a couple of faux-chicken sliders. The place felt like a theme restaurant at Disney World except that the food was good. And oh, yeah, the wait staff- not exactly Disney material with the piercings and tattoos, but very competent, friendly, and professional.

Snacks: We went to downtown Sonoma where the kids played at the city park. The square where the park and a city building (possibly city hall?) were located was surrounded by shops. I was told there would be fudge, and I hunted it down. The shop with the fudge also had gelato, so of course we got some of that too. I saw someone in the park with bread, so gee, I had to figure out where that came from, and found the Basque Cafe and Bakery where I loaded up. They had more of those morning buns!!

Dinner: We took the scenic route home, and wow! Was it ever scenic! We stopped at a park next to Tomales Bay to stretch our legs and struck up a conversation with a local. He pointed us to Point Reyes Station and Stellina for dinner. Since it was our last night there, we decided to splurge and went for it. OMG- it was the best food I've ever eaten. DH and I ordered the sole (sustainably caught, of course) roasted with fingerling potatoes and carrots. Martha Jr. ordered a pasta with beans and greens that I couldn't stop tasting; The Eldest ordered chicken that came with polenta and I couldn't leave her polenta alone. We ordered dessert to share- a gourmet ice cream sandwich. OMG, OMG, OMG- what a way to end our trip!!

Day 8, returning home
Lunch: We had to jump up and get right to the airport. We left ourselves enough time to eat there at Cat Cora's. I read about her airport restaurant in a magazine so I wanted to try it and it was pretty good, although my grilled cheese sandwich wasn't as good as the hype would have you believe. It was fancy alright, but the bread wasn't toasted the way I like it. The tomato soup was yummy and the lobster mac & cheese Martha Jr. ordered was fantastic, though. We even got an extra order of the mac & cheese to take on the plane. (I had a little cooler and they gave us some ice in a baggie to keep it from going bad.)

Snacks: I picked up a bunch of snacks at the Napa Farms Market which was also in the airport terminal. I got 3 gourmet cupcakes from Kara's Cupcakes along with some other munchies. (Another morning bun!!) More OMGs for you- those cupcakes were the best I've ever tasted ever. I got a red velvet, a vanilla, and a chocolate. The vanilla, my favorite, was incredible- the frosting was so good (I normally scrape off the frosting) with some crunchies in it. I was going to share, but I offered and those silly kids passed, so I ate all 3 of them myself!! (And I only gained 3 pounds for the trip; pretty good, I'd say.) ;)

And that's the food portion of our vacation. SF has it all over us when it comes to food; if it weren't so darn crowded I'd be tempted to move there just to eat!!