By Denise Michaels
Located in the former Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse at 360 E. Flamingo near Howard Hughes Drive in the restaurant row area, Fogo de Chao is a new addition to the Brazilian Steakhouse concept here in Las Vegas.
The décor is modern, classic steakhouse. Lots of wood finishes, sparkling glass, creamy linens and crystal on every table. Everything is spotless and well-organized. Service is gracious, friendly and helpful.
My husband Ernie and I both ordered a glass of wine from the extensive wine list. We could see the beautifully-stocked, climate-controlled wine room from our table behind a glass wall. There’s a selections of wines by the glass available. My Cabernet Sauvignon was rich and deep with blueberry notes. A perfect accompaniment to all the meats that would soon grace my plate.
First, you start with the salad bar. The skylit display, topped with a colossal spray of exuberant flowers on top beckons. We found fresh salad staples and several atypical choices like marinated artichoke hearts, perfectly blanched asparagus, seasoned redskin potatoes, Waldorf salad and cheeses you cut off a gigantic wheel. Everything is fresh and colorful. However, it’s just a tease for what’s to come.
Our server, Heather, was attentive, friendly and knowledgeable. You aren’t handed a menu at Fogo de Chao. Instead, you’re handed a coaster: green on one side and red on t’other. Set it on the edge of your table on “green” and it instructs the men dressed as Brazilian Gauchos to bring more meat cut off massive skewers into serving size portions onto your plate. Flip the coaster to “red” and it signals the Gauchos, “Please, for goodness sake, stop.” At least for now.
Side dishes brought to our table included garlic mashed potatoes, grilled polenta and fried bananas, which my husband went ape for, begging for seconds.
We were offered easily a dozen types of meat during our visit. Nothing exotic or weird, simply different cuts of steak, chicken, pork and lamb. Everything is simply seasoned with sea salt, pepper, maybe a little lemon or garlic. A manager told us they use better cuts of meat so they’re naturally flavorful and don’t require a lot of marinades or sauces. It’s a perfect choice for people adhering to a gluten-free diet. Even the cheesy biscuits are gluten-free. Or, if you’re on a low-carb program you can have a lot of fun at Fogo de Chao.
My husband stopped eating beef and pork five years ago. For him, the Gauchos stopping at our table with big hunks of beef and pork on skewers was a bit disconcerting, when he just wanted more lamb chops and chicken. Gradually, they get in the groove and bring only your meat-licious preferences. I don’t eat beef or pork often, but I got in the spirit of the place and tried a little of almost everything.
For vegetarian types you can order just the salad bar. You won’t go hungry. But if you’re the type of veggie who may be sensitive to hot slabs of meat endlessly paraded around, it might not be your best option. If you’re a carnivore who loves meat, it’ll be your idea of having just died and gone to heaven.
I used to believe meat was always the most important item on my plate. I won’t lie – I still enjoy it. But I also savor creative side dishes including fresh veggies and great salads, too.
Here’s a rundown of the meat choices I sampled:
- Rib Eye? Juicy, succulent and full of rich, beefy flavor.
- Filet Mignon? Like butta’ it’s so tender. I mean cut-with-a-fork tender.
- Baby back ribs? Outrageously porky, especially with the mildly spicy Chimichurri sauce: a blend of olive oil, garlic, fresh parsley, red bell pepper and other spices served on the side.
- Lamb Chops? Tender, petite, flavorful and flown in from New Zealand. The bones are perfectly Frenched, making a nice little “handle” to gobble ‘em down effortlessly.
- Parmesan Pork? Wonderful pairing of Parmesan and pork, but slightly dry. Wish I’d had the Chimichurri sauce for this. It would’ve made everything perfect.
- Chicken? Served skin-free. The chicken breast is wrapped in bacon. A Cognac marinade seasons the drumsticks/thighs.
- Linguica? A Brazilian-inspired pork sausage, originating from Portugal. Bold, spicy, porky flavors predominate.
Finally we both had our fill of meat and salad and said, “No mas!” Heather promptly brought us dessert menus. Ernie ordered the Papaya Cream, a light tropical pudding with a fruity, papaya tang. Creme de Cassis is poured atop your dessert tableside. I’m a chocolate lover and the Molten Chocolate Cake looked tempting. However, I opted for Key Lime Pie. It’s homemade in the classic, creamy lime-y, Caribbean-style with a crunchy, graham cracker crust.
We left more than satisfied with our meal. Dinner felt elegant, in a fun, casual way. No pretensions or stuffiness here. In a place where carnivores are king, Fogo de Chao is an unapologetically decadent experience where succulent, juicy, delicious meats play the starring role.
In a non-descript area of the northwest Las Vegas ‘burbs across the parking lot from the familiar red and white Target logo if you look between a nail shop and an insurance office you’ll find the Wine 5 Cafe. It might as well be a pizza joint – in fact it used to be a pizza joint. However, if you step inside, where you’ll be greeted with a smile and order breakfast, lunch or dinner at the Wine 5 you’ll experience something totally different
I didn’t plan to go there today. But my girl friend Senora suggested we get together for a meeting. She probably assumed it would be at Starbucks, but instead I blurted out, “Let’s meet for lunch.”
A few months ago I had lunch at the Wine 5 shortly after they opened. It felt like something was a different. I wasn’t sure what made it unique. Today I wanted to get to the bottom of things.
The dining room is as cozy, homey and pleasant as any little cafe. It’s the kind of place where you might expect to find fried chicken and biscuits, or, meat loaf and mashed potatoes on the menu. But the fare at the Wine 5 is far more exotic while maintaining a homey familiarity at the same time.
Imagine my surprise when I opened the menu and discovered unique twists on menu standards like a Reuben made with your choice of Corned Beef or Turkey or Salmon. Did your eyebrows fly up just a little bit on that one? Mine did.
But wait – there’s more. The Chef, Grace Njoroge, told me they use one-of-a-kind spice blends, imported from Kenya that aren’t overly hot, however you sense a different kind of kick. It’s not Mexican or Thai or Indian, it’s Kenyan and it’s delicious.
My friend Senora ordered the Nairobi Street Feast ($8.95). The portions are large. We probably could’ve shared her meal and it would’ve been plenty of food. She got a quesadilla made with a spinach tortilla and a tomato tortilla. On top was a garnish of onion jelly that was sweet and pungent with onion flavor. The quesadilla contained chicken, pico de gallo and cheese. On the side was a bowl of Bean and Corn Soup with Kenyan spices. Sort of a Kenyan take on a soup and sandwich.
Grace said this soup is served all over Kenya. Every Kenyan cook makes this soup. Again, comforting but kick-y, too. When you order something different from what you’ve experienced, it makes no sense to compare. It simply is what it is and that’s the beauty of venturing out and trying something new.
I ordered an appetizer, the Chile Cheese Vegetable Logs, ($7.95). Ann, our Server, recommended it enthusiastically. Your Mom would like this one: it included carrots, jicama, zucchini, sweet potato, green beans, asparagus and beets. The cut veggies are tossed in a bread crumb mixture and quickly fried. Then, the whole thing is topped with mild green chiles and colby-jack cheese. Okay, I didn’t say it’s the healthiest thing on the planet – but there still are a lot of veggies on your plate to enjoy.
The service is friendly and efficient. I swear, I visited Wine 5 only once since it opened three months before and surprisingly – Ann remembered me from my last visit.
I asked Grace, if the restaurant had a philosophy and she replied, “We want to take people out of Vegas without really taking them out of here.” Then she shared more about the Kenyan spice blends which are the inspiration for many menu items. She also told me they have menu items available to accommodate the vegetarian, the vegan, the gluten-free and more. For my good friend Stacey whose gluten-intolerant, that will be welcome news indeed.
I told the server what I believe will bring my husband Ernie in is the spices. He’s from India but likes anything spicy, no matter what cuisine it is – Mexican, Cajun or whatever. This is a man who sprinkles Cajun spices on his scrambled eggs for breakfast.
If you want to get out of the norm of all the countless chain restaurants located in Las Vegas and go someplace that’s different while still feeling familiar – visit the Wine 5 Cafe. The spices will transport you to exotic Kenya, but the comforting, pleasing surroundings and the warm, friendly service will make you feel right at home.
Wine 5 Cafe
3250 N. Tenaya, Suite 110 (near Cheyenne)
Las Vegas, NV 89107
My sister Cherie’s husband, Ray, travels a lot on business. My experience is people who travel a lot for business get to try out a lot of good restaurants in different cities. Ray recommended we have a meal at Scoma’s during our weekend. We were planning to have dinner at the Fisherman’s Wharf location on Saturday – but it wasn’t meant to be and we ended up at Postrio’s instead. On Sunday, we took the ferry to Sausalito and decided to have lunch at the Scoma’s location there.
Scoma’s in Sausalito is housed in a quirky building perched out over the bay. There are spotless, starched white linens on the tables and a fresh iris on each one, adding a pop of color. I don’t know how old the building is, but it feels old – early 1900s old. Think of a house that’s been added-on to over and over.
We lucked out. Our wait for a table on Sunday for lunch at about 1:00 pm was less than five minutes. Oh happy day! The place was lively with couples, families, business people, girlfriends hanging out together. Linda, our server, was terrific. Friendly, fast, efficient and knowledgeable. Oh, and fun.
We started by ordering two appetizers. The Cajun Shrimp and the Fire Roasted Artichoke. The shrimp were colossal and juicy-fresh. There is a certain amount of heat I associate with anything that’s called “Cajun” on a menu. Remember, my husband Ernie is from India. He enjoys heat. Not the “take the top of your head off” crazy heat I see on Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel. But a pleasing, linger in the back of your throat warmth I’ve come to appreciate.
Unfortunately for me at least, the Cajun spice on these shrimp was very mild and definitely meant for American palates – not for people who really enjoy a little “caliente.” A small arugula salad with a light vinaigrette came with our shrimp.
The Fire Roasted Artichoke with Garlic Aoli was addictive. Have you ever wanted to order the largest, most decadent dessert on the menu, and just indulge and call it dinner? I’ve never done it – too much sugar. But that’s close to the joy Cherie and I felt scarfing down this artichoke. And, how cool is this… it’s a green veggie – so it’s healthy. Couldn’t stop. The artichoke was perfectly cooked with a light smokiness. The Aoli was fresh and creamy-smooth. A wonderful pairing.
I probably could’ve eaten another Fire-Roasted Artichoke and called it good – but onward.
We went back and forth on what to order for our entrees. Cherie ended up getting the Alaskan Halibut. I ordered the Stuffed Sole with a filling of Shrimp and Crab and a Lobster Sauce.
Cherie’s Alaskan Halibut was served on top of what tasted like escalloped potatoes with Broccoli Rabe on the side. She enjoyed her lunch and said the halibut was flaky and light. My Stuffed Sole was what I expected – very mild and delicate. The Lobster Sauce on top seemed suspiciously like Lobster Bisque ladled on top. Since Lobster Bisque is one of my favorites, it’s one of those soups I know right off the bat when I taste it.
The Stuffed Sole was accompanied with white rice and garlicky Haricot Verts. I skipped the white rice. The garlicky green beans seemed like the most adventurous offering on the plate. Maybe I’m picky. It tasted fine, if a little bland for my tastebuds.
Don’t get me wrong, Cherie oohed and ahhed over everything. It’s a lovely dining experience with a lot of history in this amazing Bay area. The views out the window of the water and sky are amazing. So it’s really a matter of preference on how you like your food seasoned and the kind of dining experience you crave.
If you like American foods without a lot of fuss, adventuresome sauces or surprises – you will love dining at Scoma’s. However, if you like discovering little hole-in-the-wall places with the most authentic Vietnamese Pho or a Greek bistro where the shouts of “Opa!” and flames shooting from plates of Kasseri cheese ring out, Scoma’s might not be your cup of tea no matter how much it’s steeped in San Francisco tradition.
When Linda came by suggesting dessert – well, you know how it is. You don’t need dessert. But Cherie and I had been sugar-free all weekend. And hey, if you’re going to have dessert – why not indulge at Scoma’s, right? So we ordered one dessert with two spoons. Cherie ordered Coffee and I got Mint Tea. Yeah, I know. Tea again. It’s my thing.
The picture above doesn’t do our Apple-Blueberry Crisp with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream justice. By the time I snapped it, we already dug in and enjoyed a few bites. I’d totally forgotten to take a picture. In my estimation, it was perfect. I’ve had desserts combining blueberries with peaches – but never blueberries with apples. The healthy buggers are in our frig at home almost every week – they are known for reducing cholesterol. They’re also a yummy taste of my Michigan roots. This Crisp combined hot, cold, tart, sweet, smooth and crispy. What would be better?
If you want to experience San Francisco seafood, Scoma’s is certainly a legendary place to do it. Our lunch was relaxed and elegant and much of the food was very good. There was creativity in the Fire-Roasted Artichoke and the Blueberry-Apple Crisp. Next time I go to Scoma’s, I think I’ll get the most decadent meal ever for me: the artichoke, a bowl of Lobster Bisque and the Blueberry-Apple Crisp, all to myself.
Postrio’s on Post Street was the perfect spot for my sister Cherie and I on Saturday evening. The picture to the right really doesn’t do it justice. We actually sat on a rather cozy mezzanine level looking down on the dining room you see in the picture.
Actually, we thought we were going to end up at a different restaurant that evening. However, when we got there – we saw almost no diners inside and so we decided to keep walking and find something else. A few doors away – we stumbled upon Postrio and walked in.
When we walked in my first thought was “expensive.” A sparkling bar, brass, red brick, white linens and gracious crown moldings. All add to a sense of cozy elegance. After all, it’s a Wolfgang Puck restaurant with a second location in The Venetian in Las Vegas. But as I discovered, it doesn’t have to be.
Our waiter, Ifal, pictured left was warm, friendly and knowledgeable. I haven’t visited the Postrio’s in Las Vegas – I will now after dining at the San Francisco location. I call the cuisine where we ate “California Southern.” Well, mostly.
Cherie and I shared a salad of arugula, peaches, red onion, rye croutons and chevre in a light lemon-poppy vinaigrette ($10). What you see is half a salad after a couple bites. Ifal had our salad divvied up onto two plates so we could both enjoy without picking at one plate. The sweet Georgia peaches made a piquant contrast to the tangy chevre (goat cheese). Just right.
I wanted something homey and not to horribly adventurous, honestly. I ordered the Roasted Eggplant Gratin ($14) for dinner because I love eggplant and it sounded somewhat similar to Eggplant Parmesan. Served up in a gratin dish this was a medley of eggplant, diced tomatoes, mushrooms and spinach.
The menu said the dish was topped with a Bechamel (white sauce) and Mozzarella. I only tasted the Mozzarella. Who’s arguing? If I was in my kitchen I’d top a dish like this with Mozzarella so I was happy with that part of the Roasted Eggplant Gratin.
Taste is such a subjective thing. I’m sure the chef feels this recipe is just right. It was tasty and homey, exactly what I was in the mood for, but for my taste – I would’ve liked more garlic in the Gratin. When I think about ingredients like these – my thoughts go to Italian food and in my humble opinion, you just gotta have garlic with Italian ingredients. If you’re not a big garlic lover, my Mom for example, you’ll love it as is.
Cherie, ordered the House Smoked Baby Back ribs ($17). On her plate were four meaty, tender ribs in a spicy, not at all sweet, sauce. The sauce wasn’t overly spicy but it did deliver a kick of pleasant heat at the back of your throat a minute later. Her plate also included Haricot Verts (French green beans) and a flavorful salad made with sweet potatoes and an acho-sherry vinaigrette. Never met a sweet potato I didn’t love. A great way to enjoy ribs without going hog wild.
There were also wood-fired pizzas available ($13-20.), a lobster club sandwich ($26), a braised lamb shank ($22) and several other selections.
I felt the prices at Postrio were very reasonable for the quality received. Especially when you consider we were dining in Union Square, a very pricey area. Heck, I can go to Chili’s in my neighborhood in Las Vegas and a half rack of ribs (4) is $17.99 (I know – I know, Puck would probably be offended and disturbed if he knew a writer was comparing one of his menu items with Chili’s.) Hey, I’m just being pragmatic here. Everything on our plates was of far better quality then that chain restaurant with the plastic chili pepper on the sign. Clearly, I’m not a fan of Chili’s - but I know somebody’s gotta eat there or they couldn’t keep the doors open. This is real food like your Mom or Grandma would make. It’s not jacked-up with a bunch of cloying, overly sweet sauces on top of deep-fried meat parts.
I’m just saying there is good food available at a moderate price point when you get away from the big chain restaurants and seek out something just a little different.
After we paid our modest check and walked out the door at Postrio, Cherie and I felt we made a good choice.
The food was honest and tasty in reasonable portion sizes – not huge platters. Although the menu is clearly American the portions are more European in scale, rather than the American massive that’s become the norm. We both appreciated that. Postrio’s is a great find as you walk up the hill away from Union Square toward Nob Hill. If you’re visiting San Francisco, or live there, it’s a lively, fun, enjoyable stop for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
545 Post St
San Francisco 94102
(In the picture above I’m wearing a couple of my Chinatown finds – the hot pink pashmina and the brooch. Fun!)
San Francisco is an amazing city with so much great shopping and restaurants. It actually rivals Paris for one of my favorite cities in the world. Not that I’ve visited ALL the great cities. But of the cities where I have experience – SanFran is definitely a big favorite.
We stayed at the Hilton because we wanted a home base with plenty of amenities that would feel accommodating and welcoming. The Hilton provided that and more. We arrived by taxi and there was Benny (see left) to open the door and welcome us with a smile.
Every person we encountered at the Hilton greeted us with a warm smile and a friendly word, even the woman who cleaned our room. Check in was fast, friendly and efficient. Despite the fact we arrived at a busy time of day (about 4:30 pm) at a busy time of year – we waited less than five minutes to get checked in.
The lobby at the Hilton is a big bustling space. There’s a Starbucks in the corner – a welcome sight. Free wifi in the lobby means there’s always a handful of people working away on their ‘puters.
Sunday morning my sister went to church while I brought my laptop down to the lobby, plugged it into an outlet and settled in with a Chai Latte to work. I enjoy working in lobbies of elegant hotels. Always have. The bustle of people nearby is like music and I seem to focus well in that environment.
The Hilton at Union Square has three towers. We stayed in the first one. We were on the 41st floor so it afforded us outstanding views of the city. When the fog finally cleared Sunday afternoon – we also had a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Our room was spacious, immaculate and bright. I expect no less from a Hilton. We had a nice desk with a true office chair – perfect spot for my laptop, iPad and recharging cell phones when needed. You can see the decor is traditional.
Hipsters can say what they will, when you’re running around all day sightseeing, or, on an uber-busy business trip coming home to a welcoming, comfortable room is pleasant indeed. The picture on the right is my sister Cherie and I on Saturday after our afternoon foray to Fisherman’s Wharf and massive crowds of people. We braved the crowds for awhile. Honestly, all I really wanted to do was get back to our room where we could relax in comfort and figure out what we wanted to do for dinner that evening (another blog post to come).
Our beds and pillows were super comfy. At home, my husband and I have a pillowtop mattress with a down feather topper and 600 thread count sheets – so I’m used to indulgent, cozy comfort at home. There’s nothing worse than scratchy sheets and a mattress that feels like you’re sleeping on a board all night. I slept like a rock all three nights in Hilton comfort.
The bathroom made my sister and I feel like stars with a marble vanity and a lovely framed mirror. Oh, and don’t forget the big, fluffy towels. One of the little niceties I really appreciated was the toiletry items by Peter Thomas Roth. That brand is a very expensive line sold on QVC (yes, the TV shopping channel) so it was even more luxurious to use shampoo, conditioner, bath gel, body lotion and other treats from an elegant line.
When we arrived, we decided to have breakfast at the hotel each day. I’m staying away from the white carbs like bread, potatoes and pancakes, so having a choice from the buffet works to put together a hearty, healthy breakfast the way I like it.
Since I live in the land of buffets – Las Vegas – I’ve learned over the years to scope out all the offerings available and find what you really enjoy, first. Far better than grabbing a plate and piling stuff on mindlessly. Yes, you can eat all you want. However, for me it’s all about selection and choice.
The restaurant at the hotel is called “The Urban Tavern” and it has a Nouveau Rustic charm that’s welcoming and casual while still retaining a degree of elegance. A difficult blend to achieve – however the Urban Tavern pulls it off.
I loved this wall in one room with rustic beams, primitive urns and softly glowing candles. Well, faux candles – but they still add a nice warmth. In another room there is a colorful sculpture of a horse done in brightly-painted metal. It’s huge – about the size of a real steed. It’s almost as if the restaurant is about an old-style tavern jacked up into 2011 sensibilities and modern flair.
What really counts is the food: many of the items on the Breakfast Buffet were staples you’d expect. The Pastries in a tempting array of the patisserie chef’s skill. The Omelettes to order, Scrambled Eggs, Sausage, Bacon, cut-up Fresh Fruit, a variety of Juices, Cereal, Oatmeal and more.
But there were little happy surprises that greeted us every morning as well. Smoked Trout to go with your Bagel, Tomato slices and Capers. I loved the Steamed Salmon served up from the buffet line in Asian bamboo steamers. Miso Soup, Congee (sort of an Asian porridge) with Chicken and shots of Mango Tango juice kept things interesting and fresh each morning. Oh, and the Urban Tavern offered tiny glasses of Baked Greek Yogurt (about three bites worth) which was almost as good as a silky Creme Brulee with breakfast.
The service was crisp and professional each day. However, on Sunday morning we got an exceptional server who gave us sightseeing ideas and tips. He seemed to genuinely care about us enjoying our entire day, not just our breakfast. In the picture left Cherie raises a glass of fresh orange juice before we head out for another day of experiencing all San Francisco offers.
In a city that’s often shrouded with fog and temps in July stay below 60 degrees you might think the pool would be overlooked. After all, I was more focused on packing sweaters and socks after checking the Weather Channel for San Fran a few times and didn’t give a thought to bringing a swimsuit.
While I’m accustomed to outrageous pool playgrounds with swim up bars, fake beaches and piped in party music in Las Vegas – if you want to go for a dip the Hilton’s pool is clean, inviting and kept at a perfect 84 degrees year round.
I wish I got a picture of the Health Club. It’s about double or triple the size of what you typically see at a hotel. There were six treadmills, elipticals, stair climbers, recumbent bikes and a variety of gym equipment where it looked like people were getting a pretty good workout. Walking around the city was my workout for our stay – but if I was attending a conference or business meetings, I would certainly make use of the facilities provided.
The picture above certainly isn’t my best work – but I wanted to show you the view from our room I snapped at about 10:15 pm. All day long you could look out the big picture window as the scenery keeps changing from hour to hour. The light in the upper left corner is the flash from my camera, of course.
One more little surprise I enjoyed at our hotel was a cozy area just adjacent to the bank of elevators that whisked us up to our room: I call it the library. Just a cozy, comfortable sitting area. A great place to read a book or how nice to bring your Venti Macchiato from Starbucks and have a quiet business meeting in this space. Most of the time no one was sitting there.
Our entire experience at the Hilton was one where we felt well taken care of. Things seem to work the way they’re supposed to. There were no unhappy surprises – just pleasant ones. Sparkling, clean rooms are great but they’re an expectation, not a surprise. Same with food that’s served hot – it’s supposed to be that way. However, Baked Greek Yogurt, an unexpectedly spacious Health Club, a perfectly heated pool, a library-like sitting area and a smiling Doorman named Benny are all little, happy surprises that seem to be the day-to-day experience of staying at the Hilton at Union Square.
333 O’Farrell Street, San Francisco,
California, United States 94102
Tomorrow’s post will be about our dinner at Postrios.
Gotta go to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 when you go to San Francisco. After the mass of humanity we experienced while there – you might question why. But the seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the delicious standards the city by the bay is known for and so, especially if it’s your first visit, you gotta go.
My suggestion: try not to go on the weekend, if possible. I’ll be honest with you – I didn’t take the pictures you see accompanying this post. I found them online. I’m not a big picture taker, I’d been taking pictures all day. But there were so many people – far more than you see here – I forgot to take my camera out of my purse.
I feel these pictures accurately depict what we experienced. However, they came from online.
We got to Fisherman’s Wharf at about 4:30 pm Saturday afternoon and it was mobbed with people. The Wharf is home to the fishing industry on the harbor and some famous seafood restaurants. Every time I’ve been to the Wharf and Pier 39 in the past I’ve loved it. This time I didn’t – because of the crowds. But if you can slip in on a weekday it’s a not-to-be-missed adventure.
Pier 39 is a festival marketplace. In 1979, a guy saw a vision of totally refurbishing this pier that was piled with junked cars and make it part of the Fisherman’s Wharf experience. It worked.
You know what it’s like when you’re tired, you’ve been going all day, and, you’re walking zombie-like through the mall or some other place? That’s how I felt. Time to go home. It’s probably not realistic to write a real review under these conditions. I’m just reporting on what it was like for me.
So, we went into “Pier Market” pictured right and were lucky to get a table right away. It has that fish house on the pier look, nice, but not particularly fancy or special. We were grateful to have a place to sit and relax after making our way through the crowds outside.
When you eat at a place like this you’re paying for location, location, location. It’s all about actually being on the famous pier enjoying seafood. Cherie got a Gin and Tonic. I got a five ounce glass of white wine. We ordered a Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail and a
Crab Cakes appetizer. Our total tab with tax and tip came to: $52. I’m not an expert, but that seems high to me. Everything tasted fine – but there was nothing spectacular or special or intriguing about it. This is food for American palates – not too spicy – simple and uncomplicated. It’s not pretentious or high-falutin’.
One of the classic dishes in San Francisco and especially at Fisherman’s Wharf is Clam Chowder, especially served in a Sourdough bread bowl. Since Cherie and I were avoiding white carbs, we didn’t order it. But I’ve enjoyed it in the past. It’s darn good eating for about ten bucks anywhere on the Wharf. It’s probably your best bang for the buck in filling up inexpensively on an authentic San Francisco treat.
It’s amazing how despite the crowds and the high prices there’s such a uniquely American spirit of fun at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. It’s a family kind of place and really has a festival feel. We did enjoy ourselves there. We enjoyed looking out the big windows to the boats in the marina. Despite the madness of the crowds on the pier – looking out on the boats in the harbor is relaxing.
Once you’ve visited Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf, pretty much everything else you see in San Francisco is based upon your interests – it’s all up for grabs and it’s all out there to enjoy. You can do the whole thing in a couple hours, or, if you’d like you can spend the entire day there. It’s all up to you.
Even the street performers like the Silver Man (left) you can watch for 30 seconds or watch his routine for 30 minutes. These guys painted in silver with robotic-like moves and sounds are a fixture on the wharf. I’ve never visited without seeing at least one of them doing their thing. Most of them are hilarious and I’m happy to throw a dollar in the kitty in exchange for being amused by their antics for a few minutes.
The whole idea at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 is to visit with a spirit of participation, curiousity and a sense that it’s an enjoyable way to see, smell, hear and taste new things. And isn’t that what an excellent adventure in travel is all about?
Everyone whose ever been to San Francisco knows the city is an amazing place for restaurants and food. There’s iconic seafood from Fisherman’s Wharf, wine and an entire culture of fresh, gourmet dining to the north in the Napa and Sonoma regions. And, legendary Italian food is found in the North Beach part of the city. Honestly, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with so many choices.
This may sound a little odd but I wanted to go to a place where the food plays a supporting role. I wanted an authentic, “all about tea” time.
I’m a tea drinker. Not coffee. Tea. Tea imbibers are often treated like the red-haired step-children of the beverage-sipping world. But I still love tea even if at times I’m regarded in restaurants with little more than a sneer. I wanted an experience where, for a change, I am appreciated for my love and joy of tea.
So, a few days before leaving on our trip I Googled “tea” and “San Francisco” just to see what might surface. That’s how I discovered Samovar Tea Lounge. I read through the website with a gusto bordering on lust. I had to check this place out. Samovar has four locations in the Bay area. We had lunch at the Yerba Buena Gardens location.
We walked over from our hotel and by the time we got close I thought there must be a mistake. We were in the convention center part of the city. A concrete, steel and glass neighborhood. Not welcoming. Certainly not the location I’d expect for a Zen, relaxed tea experience. A maintenance guy told us to take a non-descript service elevator up one level to get to Samovar. There were no signs – nothing. When we exited the elevator, a new world opened up.
A lovely, colorful garden, full of bright rows of flowers stretched out before us. We arrived at 2:00-ish on a Saturday afternoon. Every table except one (outdoors) was taken – so we filled it. This is one happening place – but a very different crowd from the tourist joints. It feels like it’s more San Franciscans who would prefer the crazy tourists stay at the Wharf, Union Square or on the cable cars.
I’m not crazy about this picture (right). My eyes look squinty (just removed my sunglasses), and, I need fresh lip gloss. But behind me you get a sense of the lush, blooms of color we experienced in the rooftop garden. It’s a gorgeous, unexpected, happy surprise in the middle of San Francisco. Note the high rise buildings jutting upward.
Samovar features numerous varieties of loose-leaf, organic teas. Each is served on a tray with a small pot of water and a different cup to match the variety of tea. They make a bit of a ceremony out of it, which I enjoyed. By the way, this level of quality doesn’t come cheap. Tea service ranged in price from $9 to $17 for the most exotic, rare blends. You are paying for a quality product in addition to the experience and the ambience.
Samovar prides itself on tea and they offer a selection of Tea Services that pair interesting foods with tea. Finger food mostly. There’s the British Service, the Russian Service, the Japanese Service and, well, you get the idea. There are short descriptions about the teas on the menu. I wanted a “tea experience” which included getting answers to my questions about tea. Unfortunately, our waitress was brusque and curtly replied several times, “Oh, you’ll like it. Trust me.” Not the nurturing, Zen event I sought.
Cherie ordered the Moroccan Service (pictured left) which was accompanied with the mint tea seen above, $22. It included skewers of grilled veggies and a Moroccan cheese called Halloumi. There was an eggplant dip, Greek yogurt and a spicy hummus with Ak-Mak crackers. Two dates filled with chevre (goat cheese) and a walnut half provided a sweet-tart-crunchy ending.
I got the Paleolithic Service (carb free) which came with green tea, $19. It featured Smoked Duck, Steamed Beets, Kale and Carrot Salad and a Sesame, vinaigrette-type dressing. Unusual pairings, but all quite tasty. The green tea was an extremely mild variety. Hey, if you’re gonna have an excellent adventure, try something new, right? Even if the help was lackluster, I liked eating healthy at a tea place rather than fat and carb-laden scones and watercress sandwiches.
Samovar’s website says, “Making people feel good, feel healthy and attain happiness is our bottom line. And, challenging as it is, seeing our guests beam with joy and express their heartfelt gratitude is worth all the effort.” I don’t know if our waitress was overly-rushed or simply having an off-day. I hope the owner takes that vision seriously. Customers should be able to get answers to questions without being brushed off. Once past her rushed demeanor – she improved and our tea with lunch became more relaxed and enjoyable.
Samovar Tea Lounge is an incredibly unique experience. Not unique in a weird, foreign way. But in an, “I can’t imagine so many fascinating teas enjoyed on a rooftop garden with healthy, tasty food kind of way.” It’s almost “tea nirvana” for someone like me. I wish we had more time to try another tea and perhaps share a dessert like the Fudge Brownie with Green Tea Mousse – but Fisherman’s Wharf beckoned. So much to fit into our three and a half day sojourn.
Throw away your expectations or attachments about how you feel food and tea should be. Samovar is about surrendering and releasing yourself to something very different.
Samovar Tea Lounge
730 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
Note: Watch for the next post with my review of the Hilton at Union Square, our hotel.
You eat food in the airport you KNOW you shouldn’t have – because you’re captive. You pay, pay, pay for it afterward.
Suddenly, you leave the airport, the tide turns and life is wonderful again. It doesn’t take much. A friendly, informative cabbie. A great meal served up by a friendly waitress who seems to care.
Sustenance is joyful when it tastes like the experience my sister Cherie and I enjoyed here in San Francisco our first evening at dinner.
We walked from our hotel to Union Square. She hadn’t been to SanFran in decades, so she started snapping pictures. We stopped in Williams Sonoma, then Neiman Marcus.
Yes, we have NM in Las Vegas, but here in the City by the Bay they have a stunning stained glass window at the top of a rotunda I wanted her to see. It’s truly magnificent as you can see above.
Oh, and we had to see the Loubotin shoes. Only $995 for one pair of staggering pumps with trademark fire-engine red soles. I knew they were expensive, but wow, that’s about a mortgage payment for Ernie and I.
Then Cherie exclaimed, “Geez, it’s after seven o’clock. We need to figure out what to do about dinner.”
I figured we’d find someplace on the walk back to our hotel. We did: Santorini Mediterranean Cuisine. The menu is mostly Greek with some Middle Eastern specialties in-between.
We walked past a two-piece combo playing soft, easy jazz. The tables were set with creamy white linens and the wood chairs looked like they were shipped in from an Athens bistro.
Now, I gotta digress: A few months before meeting my husband Ernie, I took the trip of a lifetime and visited some of the Greek isles, including Santorini. The place is heart-achingly gorgeous. You never want to leave. So anything with the name “Santorini” is starting right out of the gate with an emotional advantage for me.
Our server Lara was friendly and helpful. First we were brought a saucer with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped walnuts and a little mint. On another plate was freshly baked pita bread. Cherie said the bread was soft and tender, perfect for sopping up the olive oil blend.
Since we’re both trying to stay away from white carbs (we’re not perfect at this by any means) we asked Lara if there was anything she could bring us from the kitchen to enjoy the olive oil combination without bread. Out she came with a plate of peeled cucumber chunks and slices of tomato. Perfect!
We both ordered an entrée salad ($17) that featured mixed field greens, toasted walnuts, crumbled Feta cheese, roasted beets, carrots and a pomegranate vinaigrette. You have a choice of topping the salad with grilled chicken, salmon or prawns. I thought I’d order the salmon.
Then I noticed a plate of Gyros meat float by. Gyros is that spicy, savory, uniquely-Greek combination of ground lamb and beef sliced off a vertically spinning spit and usually enjoyed in a Gyros sandwich. We asked Lara if we could have our salad topped with Gyros meat instead. She was happy to oblige.
So many amazing flavors in one pairing: the tart-sweet of the dressing, the hominess of beets, the crunch of walnuts, the sharp, creamy tang of Feta and the bite of red onions. Top with Gyros meat, and, for my sister and I, it was the tastiest, comforting, yet moderately healthy meal (in a low-carb kind of way) I could imagine for a first dinner on an excellent adventure.
After our meal, Cherie got a scoop of Pomegranate Sorbet while I ordered mint tea. Being a good sister, she let me take a bite. It tasted like cold, crushed berries with a touch of ginger. Fresh and authentic.
We left Santorini’s and walked back to the Hilton a few blocks away. The elevator whisked us back up to our room. Once there we couldn’t stop remarking about what a good choice we made – just by stumbling into a little bistro kind of spot along the way. In fact, we liked it so much we went back on Sunday evening for dinner and had a second terrific experience with a different server. Love it when that happens.
Santorini Mediterranean Cuisine is located at:
242 O’Farrell Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone number: 415-402-0060
Website: click here
Watch for my next post all about our shopping trip into Chinatown, San Francisco, CA.
This morning I’m flying out on Virgin America from Las Vegas to San Francisco for four delicious days of chill and fun time with my sister who I haven’t spent much time with in almost 20 years. I am so looking forward to getting away from the hustle bustle of my life and my business for a few days.
By the way, “chill” is the right term. I’ll be shifting from a climate with temps of 106F degrees here in Vegas to today to in San Francisco the high temp will be 56F degrees. Holy frijoles! That’s a plummeting drop of 50 degrees. I wanted to hang someplace cooler than Vegas and lordy – I’m sure getting it.
Earlier this week I was thinking about packing and the kind of clothes I want to wear for sightseeing and such a drastic change in climate. I dropped by my local DSW Shoe Warehouse and tried on a pair of brown suede ankle boots with a wedge-style heel that give me a nice 2.5-inch lift (Hey – I’m short!) yet I’ll still feel steady walking around the city. San Francsico is a great city for walking – but those hills can be challenging. Plus, I couldn’t bear the thought of buying suede boots in July so I drove home, empty-handed. But when I looked at the latest report on upcoming temps in SF on the Weather Channel, I decided to go back and get ‘em Wednesday evening after all.
I haven’t visited San Francisco in eight years. Last time I took Ernie for four days between Christmas and New Year. It wasn’t just cold and foggy – it was drizzly, too. I had a cold on that trip. We spent our mornings together sightseeing. In the afternoon after lunch, I’d kickback at the hotel room while Ernie (my train and mass transit loving husband) went exploring on the cable cars and trolleys. Of course it’s easy to have a fun time in San Fran no matter what the weather does.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider it “vacation” or “adventure” time until I’m out of the busy, airport environment. Airlines talk about how great it is to fly – but I just can’t wait to get out of that steel and plastic toilet paper tube hurtling through the sky and the cattle-herding, airport atmosphere. Slogging through security and taking my shoes and other stuff off just doesn’t seem adventurous – but that’s what it takes to get to my destination – so be it. I’ll be meeting my sister Cherie in San Francisco. She’ll be flying in from home in another state.
Once we get out of the airport, we’ll head over to our hotel. We’re staying at the Hilton in Union Square. That’ll probably get us there before check-in so we may have to check our bags with the hotel for a few hours before checking in. It’s great to be staying in such a central location in the city. I’ve stayed a few blocks away from Union Square before – but never right where all the action is. I’ve been there during big noisy protests – and when it’s a lovely, green square with plenty of great shopping, restaurants and hotels lining the four sides. Similar to New York, you never know exactly what you’re going to get.
I’m not sure where we’ll start – probably head to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch since we’ll be walking out of the airport at about one-ish in the afternoon. Cherie’s husband reports there’s a legendary restaurant for seafood on the Wharf known as Scoma’s. It’s known for wonderful views of the bay and the freshest seafood on the Wharf.
Looks like a splurge-y kind of place. A shrimp cocktail is $15 and a bowl of clam chowder is $9. Anyone who’s ever been to San Francisco knows it’s a great restaurant city. Every cuisine in the world can be found and enjoyed in this melting pot metropolis. You name it – you’ll find it here. From standard seafood and steaks to all manner of Asian foods, foods from South of the Border, European classics. You can take a trip around the world on your taste buds here.
However, I just lost 30 pounds and came off a diet last week. Literally just ten days ago. I’m on “maintenance” right now. This maintenance doesn’t have a set number of calories. However, it’s no starch and no sugar. That means no pasta, rice, bread, potatoes, flour or sugar. My sister says she’s doing the same. So, it’s about keeping it simple in the food department.
Sometime during the weekend I’m looking forward to visiting what I’ve heard is a very cool, very Zen tea house known as Samovar. Tea is one thing I can positively go wild on and not worry about over-indulging and gaining back weight (I don’t think so anyway). I like the idea of bringing my iPad, tucking away with a nice pot of tea and doing some reading, facebooking or something. Free wifi there, too.
I’m not planning on visiting Alcatraz or doing a harbor cruise. Been there, done that. Got the T-shirt. This weekend is about enjoying the city in all it’s quirkiness and enjoying hanging out with my sister. Something I don’t get to do often since we live in different states. It’s also an opportunity for us to renew our relationship. We’ve been going in different directions with our lives for many, many years now. She’s probably more the Scoma type and I’m more the Samovar type. But I’m looking forward to finding a way to meet in the middle and go home feeling like our relationship is new and fresh again.