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.
The trip I took recently to San Francisco meeting up with my sister Cherie (she lives in Denver and I live in Las Vegas) was almost a miracle in a lot of ways. In fact, just a couple years ago it would’ve been inconceivable for us to spend three days together.
We didn’t see each other for years. The only exchange we had with each other was a Christmas card with a few handwritten words.
Cherie and I have taken very different paths through life. No bad or good here – just different. She’s about to celebrate her 34th wedding anniversary next week. Ray was her high school sweetheart and they married young, ages 20 and 21. I went through a plethora of lousy relationships and finally met Ernie at age 39. By the time we tied the knot I was 48 and he was 60.
Cherie wanted children more than anything in the world. I saw kids as “the world’s biggest job – and a job I didn’t want.” I wanted to write and be in business. When she was unable to have kids, it was a great sadness to her. Eventually they adopted, and now those two children are grown and on their own. In October 2010, she finally became a Grandma at long last. Her little grandson Conrad (nine months old now) brings her incredible joy.
Because my husband is a few years older than me, I became a step-grandma seven years ago when Angelica was born. I now have three step-grandkids. My husband’s former wife (she was always very nice to me) passed away shortly before the first grandchild was born – I’m “Grandma Denise” to them. I love reading stories, taking the girls to the store to pick out a lip gloss or a story book
from the bookstore. When they come to visit they help me water my herb garden, make pancakes for Sunday morning breakfast and set the table. Even though Cherie is two and a half years older, I know she has so much to look forward to in that department. Being a Grandma, even a “Step” is a blast and something we now share as sisters.
We gingerly opened the lines of communication about a year and a half ago. Many Facebook messages and emails later we finally saw each other again a year ago when our Dad passed away. I think we both realized we didn’t want to be the kind of sisters who one day said, “Woulda, coulda, shoulda,” after it’s too late. After flying back home after Dad’s funeral we kept the conversation going. Again, lots of Facebook and emailing.
Cherie doesn’t work outside the home right now, however, for many years she worked in Optics. For a time she had her own gig managing optics stores and offices when the Optician or Office Manager was on vacation or off for illness. Then, a decade ago Cherie started a non-profit in Denver that provides eye exams and glasses for the homeless. She has 65-70 Optometrists who donate time, glasses frames and lenses to help the homeless of Denver have good vision again. She says, “For a child it can make a huge difference because they can read and do better in school, so maybe they will be that child who breaks the cycle of poverty and homelessness.” Pretty impressive.
We spent time shopping and sightseeing. We also spent time talking in our hotel room. We both wanted to get back to the connection we had as sisters 45 years ago when we played school and she taught me to read. Or Barbies. Or bike riding.
Although now we both have a great deal more wisdom and the wrinkles to prove it. She walked with a cane all weekend due to a knee injury. I totally tore up my quads (thighs) walking down Nob Hill in three-inch wedges, wishing I could borrow her cane, go barefoot or sumpthin’.
Cherie and I will never be the same. She’ll never understand the joy I experience in writing. Or, the headaches and triumphs of owning a business, moving energy and creating financial abundance. I’ll never totally connect with her compassion for the homeless that leads her to give so much time away selflessly. She and her husband are reasonable Republicans. Ernie and I are independent-leaning Democrats.
But we can come together, have fun and appreciate we’re adding to the world in our own small ways. We can finally appreciate our differences and love each other for what we do share – an unbreakable bond as sisters.
We arrived in San Francisco on Friday afternoon. It was finally Monday and my sister and I had a few hours remaining before it was time to make our way back to the Hilton at Union Square where our bags were waiting and get a cab to the airport and our flights home. Cherie was shopped out. I was walked out. After a disappointing visit to Ghiradelli Square (most of the boutique-y shops are out of business now) we were
Suddenly Cherie said, “How ’bout we rent one of these for a couple hours.” I looked over and saw this screaming, taxi-cab yellow mini car called a “Go-Car.” They have three wheels and hold two adults. Barely. We had to watch a safety video and wear helmets for the ride. They also have a GPS-guided tour that tells you where to turn and a little bit about the history of certain landmarks and spots of interest. As you can see in the picture of Cherie on the right, you give the Go-Car gasoline like you would on a motorcycle. You’re warned not to drive over 30 miles per hour. Oh, and stay off all freeways and bridges.
The Go-Car putts along merrily. You’re sitting very close to the ground. The open “cabin” where we were seated is so tiny we had to put our purses in the even tinier trunk. A friend asked me, “Is it as small as a SmartCar?” I replied, “Take a SmartCar and cut the roof off and you just about have the size of the Go-Car.”
It doesn’t have a “reverse” gear. So, if you park somewhere to get out and look at the sights around you, you have to push the Go-Car out of your parking space, get back in, start it up (sometimes questionable) and get started ambling on down the road again.
The tour started out heading south, away from Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero. Soon we passed Ghiradelli Square again. Just a mile or two down the road we were away from the hustle-bustle of the city and along the waterfront. We saw lots of para-sailers on the East Beach. Apparently the endless wind blowing off the Pacific and the currents provide an almost constant opportunity for fun on the water.
The city is finally behind you. There are no skyscrapers. Soon, the iconic symbol of San Francisco, The Golden Gate Bridge, comes into view. As you look toward the water it’s almost as if you’re away from civilization except for the famous rusty-red bridge.
As we drove closer and closer, the bridge loomed larger and larger. You don’t realize what a massive structure The Golden Gate truly is until you get up close and personal.
We were right up next to the water’s edge. There’s a turn-off point just before going over the bridge where people can stop, take pictures and admire this engineering marvel. I think Cherie was a little afraid we’d end up driving on the bridge. In fact, there’s a little tunnel that actually burrows under the bridge and keeps heading south to some amazing places I’d never seen in previous visits to San Francisco.
We drove through The Presidio, and, as we drove we listened to the GPS Lady Guide fill us in on the highlights. I took a few pictures of Golden Gate Park as well. It’s a different world from the city nearby. Our handy-dandy GPS guide told us about the history of the place and how a man with a vision for a nature park at the city’s edge, a Scotsman named MacLaren was responsible for it’s development in the early 1900s. You can smell the fresh scent of pine trees. It’s lovely and green. There’s no other words to describe it except outrageously green, stunning, relaxed, Zen and a happy place.
One of the crazy things about the Go-Car was driving down hills. You would think that little putt-putt engine would have a challenge driving up hills. Not so. We would drive down a hill and and about a block or so from the bottom the Go-Car engine would peter out. A little scary at times with traffic around us, but Cherie stayed calm (no wonder – she and her husband are sailors and both certified sea captains). She always managed to get us started again while I was almost ready to bite my nails.
My guess is coming down the hills the Go-Car is running on gravity and there simply isn’t enough gasoline going through the fuel line to keep the engine going adequately. That’s just a guess.
Somewhere along the way we must’ve taken a wrong turn because the GPS Lady Guide went silent. There was a map on the tiny dashboard of the car. Cherie said, “Figure out where we’re at and how to get back to the Wharf area to return the Go-Car.” I didn’t want to tell her I’m pretty navigationally-challenged when it comes to maps. Even worse, my reading glasses were in my purse in the trunk so I couldn’t quite see what I was supposed to be figuring out.
If you look at the picture to the right (road and dashboard), in the lower right corner there’s a little orange box. It holds business cards. Okay, it wasn’t a smart move on my part, but I decided to wedge my cell phone in the box. It kept wanting to fall between my legs onto the floorboard and I thought it’d be safe. Again, my purse was in the trunk. We were less than a mile from the garage when Cherie hit a pothole. Before I could react my purple Blackberry went flying out of the box, banged onto the pavement and skittered under a parked car nearby.
“Cherie!” I screeched above the engine noise. “My cell phone!!” Quickly she pulled over and said, “I’ll drive around the block while you go find your phone.”
I unhinged the seatbelt, leaped out of the Go-Car and started jogging up the sidewalk, without a clue which car my phone landed beneath. Suddenly a man walked toward me with something outstretched in his hands. “Is this your cell phone?” he asked. In three separate pieces was my phone, the battery and the back cover. I thanked him profusely and then returned to the corner beaming as my sister picked me up. When I put the pieces back together again – it worked. Disaster averted!!
The Go-Car is a fun adventure to enjoy for a few hours in San Francisco. Just keep your helmet on, stay confident the engine will start again if it peters out, and, don’t put your cell phone (or anything else of value) in that little orange box on the dashboard. Have fun!
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.
From Union Square you walk uphill on Grant Street, and before you know it – about six blocks away – you’re at the gate of Chinatown. (There’s a Starbucks right outside the entrance. We stopped there to reload on bottles of water.)
There’s a bustling Chinatown in New York, and, there’s even a sort of strip mall version of Chinatown in Las Vegas where I live.
However, I always think of the “real Chinatown” as the one one in San Francisco. After all, the Chinese people started coming to the USA in the 1850′s to work on the railroads built to connect the east with the western frontier. Many worked for very low wages or even as slave laborers. So they’ve been a part of this country and particularly this city for over 150 years.
If you’ve never been to Chinatown and think it’s just another tourist trap part of town, think again. The Chinese population has always been an vibrant part of the culture. There are more than just Chinese restaurants and trinket shops. Although there are plenty of those. There are large Chinese-owned hotels and banks. Chinese and other Asian names pepper the election ballots.
A slight diversion: I loved this sculpture of a street bench with the three monkeys, “Say no evil. See no evil. Hear no evil.” Just one of the little surprises you see here and there in San Francisco. Cause for a smile in unexpected places.
Interesting thing I learned about my sister while in Chinatown, “Wow! Can she ever shop!!” It wasn’t all just for her, of course. Cherie was thoughtfully, happily purchasing gifts for birthdays and Christmas for her grown kids, her daughter-in-law and her new grandson, less than a year old.
Kidding I asked, “I know you want to keep the economy going here in America – do you have to do it single-handedly?” She laughed, full of fun.
Cherie has a special connection with Asia. Both her adopted children were born in Korea. Okay, it’s not China, but it’s Asia. One item she bought for her grandson (half-Korean) is a little tiny black satin jacket with gold emroidery and pants. “I want a picture of him in it,” she said.
You still find Mao jackets, jade jewelry and iron teapots. But I also saw clever items like purses in Chinese brocade fabric – shaped like a Chinese food carry out container for under 20 bucks. Very cute. Lovely tea cups with built in tea strainers (for people into loose leaf teas) for just $5.
Plenty of other surprises made me feel Chinatown is stepping up and looking at their customers and making their merchandise a better fit for who buys in their shops. Far better then what I recall in the past. I remember these shops offering cheap T-shirts and silly souveniers that collect dust in the back of a cabinet until they’re re-gifted.
As a marketing mentor, I thought one area where Chinatown is behind is how merchandise is displayed and shown off. They could take a few tips from successful retailers. You often see untidy piles of merchandise. Not arranged neatly – just piled up. Some shelves look like they haven’t been dusted in months. All the stores try to compete by having the best prices.
In my humble opinion, they must not understand marketing. When you only compete on price – it’s a race to the bottom and business owners’ suffer as a result. But as a customer if you’re willing to sift and sort through the stacks and piles – you can find wonderful deals.
In one store they had these really pretty bracelets in many colors all piled up for only six dollars each. I got one in a pale pink – looks like rose quartz. The other is a magenta color. Okay, I’ve told the world on my blog about my inexpensive bracelets – but who cares. I like they way they look. No one who sees me wearing ‘em will know they were in a massive pile of bracelets rather than on an upscale display fixture.
The shops all have signs in them that say, “No pictures” but I did something against the rules and shot a picture of this display of Buddhas and statues. I thought even if they were all piled up together, it still had a loveliness that I found pleasing and almost like a little shrine tucked into the back of this shop.
I subscribe to the rule I don’t buy new things unless I’m willing to get rid of something old. Or, if I really have a space for something without crowding other things – I’ll buy something new. So, I bought the two bracelets. I got a hot pink silk/wool blend scarf for four dollars. And a lovely cloisonne pen for just twelve dollars. Oh, I also bought a pretty brooch at a jewelry shop that offered some very unique and reasonably priced merchandise. I love brooches and wear them more than necklaces – just part of my style.
Simply don’t have room for a single Buddha statue or even an iron tea pot. I enjoy shopping as much as the next woman – but when it makes sense. At this stage of my life my home is full of stuff. I believe in buying beautiful things so I always enjoy using them. Even the mixing bowls in my small kitchen are lovely. That way I’m never pining for trinkets or dust collectors to pretty up a corner of my home. A little sumpthin’ sumpthin’ I learned many years ago.
Even though I didn’t buy a lot in Chinatown, I could still enjoy the adventure of strolling around in the shops and enjoying the buzz of people and riot of colorful items I COULD have if I wanted.
Next post: my review of Samovar Tea Lounge.
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.
I’m looking forward to staying there. I love the idea of staying in the heart of Union Square. It’s such a great part of the city. One thing I noticed on their website – the Hilton has a Starbucks right in the hotel. You just know I’ll throw on my jeans in the morning and head down for a cup of tea and maybe sit in the lobby to read the newspaper or catch up on emails for a little bit before starting my day.
People who know me know I’m a Starbucks aficionado. In fact, I’m thinking about writing an ebook on how to get the best deals when you order your favorite cuppa at the ubiquitious coffee joints with the green mermaid on the cup. Sometimes how you order can cut the price of your beverage by half. Really! Think about it.
Order a Venti Latte – and you’re looking at a $4.25 beverage. If you order a Grande coffee in a Venti cup and add the milk yourself you’re now looking at about a $2.50 beverage. Big difference if you do it over and over again every day.
Our reservation is for a room with two beds. Oh, all the rooms have flat screen TVs. Usually when I travel with Ernie I like to get a room with one queen or king bed because there’s often more room for a nice club chair or a loveseat and desk. Because this trip I’ll be meeting up with my sister, we’ve opted for two beds in our room.
The hotel looks like it offers a lot of amenities: restaurants, meeting space and much more. There are so many fabulous restaurants in San Francisco, but sometimes it’s nice to just make it easy on yourself and have breakfast or dinner at the hotel for a few meals. When I get there I want to take a video tour and share it here.
One of the restaurants at the Hilton is called, The Urban Tavern. I posted a picture below. Looks like it’s a pretty casual place – which suits the way we live now. I’ve lightened up on a lot of my eating lately – I’ve been keeping to a healthy diet the last couple months, so my aim is to keep it healthy on this and future trips. No Sweet and Sour Pork in Chinatown. If we go to one of the great Italian restaurants in San Francisco I’ll have to figure out a way to sidestep the pasta. Grilled veggies anyone?
Right near the Hilton is a lot of amazing shopping adventures. One of the things we said we want to do in SF is a little “retail therapy.” I have no idea what I want to buy. I just redecorated my porch as you know. In fact I replaced the two cafe chairs in one of the pictures with green wicker ones. I don’t need a doggone thing. But I’m sure I’ll find an amazing pair of shoes or earrings or something. So every time I wear them I’ll be reminded of the trip.
I love getting small treasures that are a reminder of a great time – especially usable items. In my bathroom I have a little plaster bas relief of ancient Greek soldiers perched on a small easel from a cruise through the Greek Isles. I got it during a stop in Rhodes. In my kitchen is a wonderful pitcher for water or juice shaped like a chicken that came from a stop on the island of Lesbos. I have a favorite silver bracelet from a week in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. When I went to the Winter Olympics a few years ago I bought one of those bells you hear spectators ringing as the downhill skiiers race down the mountain. It’s not practical – but a reminder of my trip and has a place of pride on my bookcase.
Just nine more days before jetting off to The City by the Bay. Can’t wait. Looking forward to share more about my trip when I get there. I’ve been to San Francisco a few times before. Been to Alcatraz, Pier 39, Nob Hill, rode the cable cars and a few more of the standard sights. What do you recommend I do while in San Francisco?
(These pictures are from the Hilton website.)