Spring has finally sprung here in Calgary and I am finally out of ‘vacation mode’. My mind has made the switch back to reality and I can finally let loose a little and tell you all about our family trip to San Francisco. It seems funny to say ‘family trip’ because really there were only three of us that went. My oldest doesn’t take trips with us because he’d rather take trips with his future wife and in laws (yes I am still having trouble letting go!) and our daughter was on a school trip to Europe. It was just hubby, kid number one, and I for this whirlwind trip to the city by the bay.
I now understand why Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco. This city is packed full of things to do and see, not to mention a mecca of sorts for us foodies. I had planned on mapping out important and not to miss eating spots before we left but I really only had a few in mind by the time our airplane took off. It really helped that I had a few food loving friends that had visited SF the week before and were very active on social media about it. Local food writer and awesome lady Gwendolyn Richards gave me a few ideas, as did long time friend and fellow food blogger, Noelle Chorney of Amazon in the Kitchen. I may have also borrowed a few ideas from Anthony Bourdain, that dude knows his shit.
On our first full day in SF we began with some great coffee and breakfast sandwiches from a great little café around the corner (and up the hill) from our hotel. One thing we noticed and became very grateful for was that almost all of the little cafés and restaurants had open wifi. It was very convenient for us travelers…why don’t we have this in Canada? We didn’t have a lot of time to relax with our coffees as I had scheduled our Alcatraz tour right away at 10 am. We did a lot of walking before we figured out the correct spots to catch the bus (MUNI) but we eventually got on and off quite near Pier 33, just a mere 5 minutes before the tour was to leave. The ferry ride to the island was quite enjoyable, with warm temperatures and sunny skies we had an amazing view of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
At first I wasn’t really as excited about touring Alcatraz as the boys were but now I am really glad we went. We spent a good time on the inside (see what I did there?) and also had the chance to view the great art exhibit @Large by Ai Wei Wei. His portrayal of social and political prisoners in the Alcatraz setting was especially poignant. It was pretty late afternoon when we got back to the mainland and we were starving so we were happy there was no line up at Hog Island Oyster Co. We had a large tray of the freshest oysters possible and I got to eat my first sunny California avocado in this amazing avocado, fennel, and grapefruit salad. This photo of the boys is my favourite from the whole trip! After lunch we explored the markets at the Ferry Building then caught a virtually empty cable car back to our hotel to chill for the evening.
The next day was a big one! We did a lot of walking, beginning first in Chinatown then over to Molinari’s Italian Deli in North Beach for lunch. While the boy and I waited in line inside, I had a good look around and suddenly felt as if I were in a Godfather movie. This deli (around since 1896) is an institution and one of the few Italian sandwich shops left over from a time when the Italians ran everything and the Irish police were on the hunt. Everyone ate at Molinari’s. It took us a while to clue in that we needed a number…and even longer to figure out why everyone was standing around holding bread. To get your sammich you must first do those two things or you will be waiting forever! After lunch we hiked up to see Lombard Street, the street that is famous for being the steepest in San Francisco. Having hiked up the first portion, I was happy to stay at the bottom and take pictures of the cars driving down the hill in a continuous zig zag while kid number one ran up one side and down another. Apparently he had energy to burn. After Lombard street we grabbed the BART to the Mission area where we waited in a line outside of Omnivore Books so that I could meet David Lebovitz!! It was a true foodie fan girl moment. My only regret is not being able to fully browse those shelves, completely stocked with every cook book you could possibly imagine.
Since I knew we would be in the area quite late, I had decided to ask Mr. Lebovitz (via twitter the night before) what his local restaurant recommendation would be. Imagine my surprise when I woke up in the morning and he had replied! I phoned Contigo immediately and was able to get a reservation for 9:15…pretty late but well worth it in my books! We ended up spending some time in Starbucks using their free wifi, then arrived at restaurant at our appointed time and starving…to find we had to wait another half an hour. Let me just say this…if you pay your bill you are finished your meal! It is so extremely rude to then decide to order dessert and digestifs while others wait for their table nearly fainting from low blood sugar. I really thought hubby was going to lose it but he didn’t and I am glad we stayed. We had one of the best meals at Contigo during our stay in San Francisco.
Contigo is a tapas style restaurant. Like most SF establishments it is tiny and extremely busy. I was a bit nervous about getting a ‘set menu’ that late in the evening because I thought their most popular dishes would be sold out already. The server assured us that the set menu only contained the most popular dishes and it did, thankfully, give us the most bang for our buck. There was no question whether or not we could eat that much food. We began with David’s recommendation…anchovy toast! Then Jamón Serrano Croquettes Next up…Strawberry and Grilled Goat Cheese Salad…with fennel and kumquats.That was a hard act to follow…This Pea and Mushroom Crostini wasn’t our favourite…but that tiny salad with fresh sweet snap peas was so good!And then our favourite dish of the night (and most likely our whole trip) Grilled Squid with black rice, chorizo, and roasted artichokes. Yeah I’m still dreaming about this dish.
The Grilled Trout we had next was pretty delicious too because it had more of those sweet snap peas, Jamón serrano, and a really interesting green farro. I asked the server about it and apparently it is grown locally and has a very short season…which of course is spring!
So, our first two days in San Francisco were packed with sunshine (yay!), lots of walking, sightseeing, and FOOD! Stay tuned for more posts on our trip to San Francisco….