Monday, March 30, 2015

San Francisco, Part 2 and Transition to Home

I've now been home for a few days; I landed into a frenzy of preparation for a presentation and some other events, so I was slow to get back to this. But San Francisco holds a large and fond place in my recent memory.

Tuesday, March 24

My day started with trying to wrap up my blog post which made me late for the keynote talk at the conference. I was looking for somewhere to grab a quick snack on my way to the conference (shouldn't be difficult, right?). I stopped at Boudin Bakery, thinking I could get some kind of pastry. While the latte they made was good, the cheese muffin I picked up tasted more like cake for breakfast.

I realized then how little sugar (except in the form of sparkling wine) I had actually been eating. I chose not to eat the muffin and instead gave it to a homeless man and carried on my way. There were several interesting shops just outside the hotel in Embarcadero Centre, so I decided to take my chances. Paramo Coffee was the answer. I grabbed a sweet potato paleo muffin that felt MUCH better to eat. It gave me pause, in fact. Maybe I should be eating like that more often...

Lunch at the conference that day was much more enjoyable. The Hyatt had set out a buffet of salads, fresh seasonal vegetables, soup and more. I filled up my plate with salad, veggies, and a little piece of chicken, and felt great about the meal.

I wasn't sure whether I would connect with anyone for dinner that night, but I had set my sights on The Slanted Door at the Ferry Building. My husband and I had lunch there about 10 years ago, so I was curious to see whether it had stayed popular and current—and more importantly, delicious.

By the end of the day of intensive downloads of information on web content, I was pretty much ready to go off on my own. So I headed to the Ferry Building and discovered that The Slanted Door is indeed still hopping. So much so that I snagged the very last chair at the bar. After that they were telling people there was a 45 minute wait for even one person at the bar.

Service at the bar was excellent. The bartender walked me through options for matching wine to the food I had ordered: green papaya salad, uni (also on my bucket list) and shrimp and green onion dumplings. He started me with a Gruner Veltliner, which was perfect with the salad. It also went well with the wild Mendocino uni.

More to say on uni, otherwise known as sea urchin. It's the Big Thing right now, and I had never had the chance to try it. Slanted Door serves it raw, over an avocado (I think) lime cream, topped with flaky salt and caviar. It was quite highly seasoned, with lime and salt coming through, with an undercurrent of the weird, briny 'other' flavour of the uni. The creamy avocado purée put the uni texture in context, since it was less creamy, and actually had some structure next to the avocado cream. The pop of the caviar and crunch of the salt added more texture.

I reserve judgement on uni until I've tried it once more. As a good friend of mine says, "I'll try anything twice."

We did a bit of back and forth on figuring out the wine for the shrimp and chive dumplings. The bartender suggested a Riesling, which was just too sweet for me. He found another option, although I think I would have been better off to stick with the Gruner Veltliner.

I'm amazed though, at the continued popularity of the Slanted Door. 10 years or more in, and they're still packed.

Wednesday, March 25

I opted for a smoothie again this morning, and showed up less late, but still late, for the keynote. Luckily, the whole conference seemed to be running late, so I didn't miss much. I had lunch with some different people, including the organizer of the conference, and again kept it light in anticipation of my evening adventures.

This evening, I had tickets to a Howell Mountain spring wine tasting at the Presidio, a former military base in Golden Gate Park. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was glad to have received the Bottlenotes email promoting the event, which just happened to be taking place while I was in San Fran.

The evening was a wonderful education in Cabernet Sauvignon. While some vintners had other varietals, all of them offered at least one Cab. I tried Cabs ranging in price from $45 to $300 a bottle, and got a good cross-section from this specialized mountain region. The most memorable were a Cab Franc from Black Sears Estate Wines, which, strangely, had the aroma of baby diapers (not a bad thing, overall). Arkenstone wines offered a Cab blend that was unbelievably balanced and pure old world style. I loved those. Roberts + Rogers had a fairly pricy Cab that tasted meaty—as in beefy— and delicious. It was super fun, and I spoke with both some interesting vintners, and a very entertaining gentleman named Frank. If you ever see book published, titled PIMP: Personally Invested in Managing People, that's Frank. I think he'll be famous very soon.

From there, I was going to try to get in to a new and crazy popular restaurant called State Bird Provisions. I had hoped that I could sneak into the bar, as I'd been managing to do at other popular places, but no luck here. I arrived at 7:15 and was told that there would be nothing available at the bar until 9:45. Truly, I'm not even sure how that is even possible.

But they directed me next door to The Progress, owned by the same people, and set up in the same style of dim sum inspired small plates. I was seated almost instantly at the bar next to a restaurant manager from The Chalkboard in the Napa area. We chatted while he finished up his meal, and I started mine.

The menu changes daily, but on the day I ate there, I had:

  • grilled lap cheong (Chinese sausage) with salted chili paste
  • tempura of bouchot muscles and seville togarashi aioli (chili citrus aioli was fantastic)
  • shaved cauliflower with herbs and pig fries (that's pig ears in the form of French fries)
  • butter clams on the half shell with kimchi piccata and snap peas
  • Pecorino 'roti' with perigord truffle buttermilk
  • roasted mushrooms and kale with local wakame kraut (best thing ever, even if kale is so 2014)
  • black butter butternut squash with caramelized onion and swiss chard (also fantastic. Heck, it was all fantastic)
And for dessert, I had poppyseed angel food cake with Sicilian pistachio and mascarpone. Yum.

So that was my last meal in San Francisco, except for the delicious heuvos rancheros prepared by authentic Mexicans at the SFO airport the next morning. 

When I arrived home in Saskatoon, I was of course glad to be home but was struck instantly by the prevalence of meat and starches after living on shellfish and vegetables (with frequent garnishes of salted pork). I missed that style of eating.

I didn't get a chance to cook right away, because we had friends in town. At Aroma Restobar in the Radisson, I skipped the steak special and ordered the 'breakfast trout', served with a 'bacon and spinach soufflé' which was really more like scrambled eggs with spinach and bacon and a piece of oatmeal crusted trout on top. There were also a lot of potatoes. I ate the trout, and my vegetables, but skipped most of the scrambled eggs and the potatoes. My husband happily cleaned up my plate.

The next day our friend generously offered to order pizza for dinner after we had classic bacon and eggs for brunch. Tasty, but again, not quite what I had been used to.

Sunday, I made gourmet macaroni and cheese for my kids at lunch, because it's one of their favourites, but I didn't eat much. Instead I made a meal plan for the week and took the first step toward eating more like San Francisco by making a collard salad with cashews and lime. That was more like it. And D was keen on what he called the "cashew pudding" that you spread on the plate under the salad.

I'm glad the Canadian winter food desert is over as well, so we can get more vegetables from closer to home. I found an organic cucumber, Canadian grown, in Safeway yesterday. Hallelujah! My fresh meal plan for this week will be up next.

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