Forty Observations: San Francisco (Part 1)

 Last week I sorta disappeared before finishing my countdown to the number 40. No, I wasn't feeling suicidal. And I didn't crawl into a cave to escape the inevitable. My sweet husband Dave planned a special birthday trip to a place we both visited once before, though separately.

Sixteen years ago, Dave lived in San Francisco for four months while on a job assignment. He returned to New York about a month before I landed in San Fran with two friends, just a trio of tourists soaking in the sights and eating our first taste of California cuisine. Dave and I met later that same year, and on our first date we talked about the various places we've travelled to. We quickly discovered our shared affection for the Golden Gate City. After we got married, San Francisco has always topped our list of cities we would relocate to if the right opportunity presented itself---or if we simply got sick of New York. But neither ever happened, so we stayed put.

The sticker in this photo says it all. I truly do heart this city. And what made this second trip to San Fran extra special was the inclusion of our kids Masana and Mack, two sophisticated youngsters who patiently waited on long lines to eat what we adults kept calling "the good stuff" and energetically attacked the sharp inclines of the undulating concrete terrain. If it were not for their willingness to try new things, I don't think our trip would have been as successful as it was.

Masana and Mack: I heart you.

I didn't get a chance to finish my countdown to 40, so I thought it would be fun to put together 40 observations of our trip. But I can be loquacious when describing my sojourns abroad, today's post will only include the first 10 observations.

1. The architecture of San Francisco is impressive. While I may not like the Transamerica Pyramid, I do appreciate its Futuristic style. And the rest of the architecture of San Francisco. Victorian homes, Art Deco and Art Nouveau buildings, grand Beaux Arts hotels, and even some French Gothic structures like the Grace Cathedral. Every corner greeted our eyes with something that made us pause.

Or maybe it was all those darn hills. Hmm.

2. The variety of trees is just as impressive as the architecture of the buildings, mainly because San Francisco is a city and not some suburban town. Dave noticed them during this trip because he's become quite the gardener. The trees that lined Lombard Street (the non-crooked section) in the North Beach and Telegraph Hill neighborhoods "looked like broccolis" according to Masana. (I think that was a compliment.) I spied a few palm trees in the Montgomery Financial district, and these beauties on the left were growing amongst the rubble in Alcatraz.   

3. Tartine Bakery in the Mission district is the best bakery in the city. And I wish there had been enough time to sample everything in sight. One morning, the four of us jumped into a cab and headed to Tartine for a light breakfast. While we weren't rolling out the door with engorged bellies, the warm morning buns, croissants, and shortbreads could hardly qualify as light. But, oh, so worth it.

4. The San Francisco Giants may replace my son's beloved Yankees as the most entertaining team in baseball. Brian Wilson: as my Mom used to say, you are really something. I mean something!

5. AT&T Park has a heated second tier, also known as the club level. So if you get cold, you can simply hang out indoors. And that guy with with gas tank attached to his back? Full of Ghiradelli hot chocolate goodness. Possibly my favorite ballpark ever.

6. Alexander Book Company may not have a cafe, but its customers are encouraged to lounge as they please. One rainy morning, we found ourselves hanging out for a protracted amount of time among the travel and children's books with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Mack pulled out AWhole Nother Story by Dr. Cuthbert Soup from a shelf, sat on the floor, and began reading it. The proprietor (who's name escapes me) saw him and asked both Mack and Masana what they liked to read. After listening to the titles of the various books they rattled off, she made quite a few suggestions and excitedly summarized the plots of each book. Her excitement was contagious and we walked out with two new books. And at our hotel, our kids read each night before bedtime. How awesome is that?

7. There are hotel concierges, and then there are members of Les Clefs d'Or USA. Daniel Paz, the concierge extraordinaire at the Ritz Carlton, is a member and he will always hold a special place in our hearts. He planned my entire birthday dinner. I told him what I wanted and he researched restaurants for two hours. He then chose a restaurant, made our dinner reservation, wrote up an itinerary, and sent it to our room along with a copy of the menu. It was a night to remember. And my lamb tenderloins were fantastic! So when you are talking to a hotel concierge, look for the golden keys the members of the Les Clefs d'Or wear on their lapel. And if you stay at the Ritz in Frisco, tell Daniel that Richela sent ya.

8. Mama's On Washington Square serves the best breakfast in the city. The baked treats melted in our mouths, especially the crumb cakes (and though I couldn't find it on their online menu, we had the chocolate, raspberry, and plain crumb cakes). The breakfast "M'omlettes" were fluffy and moist, and the chocolate cinnamon French toast had the right amounts of chocolate and cinnamon so it didn't make us sick to our stomachs when we ate the whole thing. Which we simply had to do. And the homemade Olallieberry jam on the table was incredible. I never tasted anything like it. The only complaint was the latte. Not their thing. I should have just ordered a regular cup o' Joe.

9. True to its name the Curiosity Shoppe in the Mission district had some things that made us curious. A card catalog with prices on the front of each drawer compelled me to open each one like a little kid. A peanut shaped eraser priced at 50 cents found its way into Mack's hands, which is ironic since he is deathly allergic to the real thing. I was drawn to a letterpress origami rabbit ($8). As nice as the store is,  the offerings were a bit on the paltry side compared to what they offer online. This is great for me since I don't live in San Francisco and can still peruse their offerings from the comfort of my home in New York. But how disappointing for us as a family of four that waited thirty minutes for the store to open.

10. If you find yourself at the Ferry Building on a Thursday or Saturday before 2pm, head over to the 4505 Meats stand. We ate smoky bacon hot dogs that I can still smell in my dreams. The menu changes regularly, so I can't promise anyone that they will have the pleasure of eating a smoky bacon hot dog. But the menu is creative and it would be a crime to shy away from the more daring offerings. On the day we found ourselves on the queue, cheeseburgers and fried chicken were on the menu, but so were a beer sausage and something called a Gigante which was a pork sausage with jalapeno peppers and cheddar cheese. Guess which ones I had?

So that's it for today. I'll post the next 10 observations in a couple of days.