Tuesday, May 06, 2008
As many of you know, I had a fantastic trip to San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. The smell of that city (of cool ocean, cedar and eucalyptus) was permanently etched into my sensory memory when it first blew into my nostrils as a child on family vacations. To me that scent embodies the city’s feeling of freshness. The sun shines on it. People smile there. People wear color.
The California sun seems to bestow upon it’s kingdom the promise of hope, new ideas and thus, innovation. These things in a way are true of much of the West Coast, but in California there is a lightheartedness that prevails—a feeling that allows people to try new things without too much seriousness. For example, a discussion over a light dinner led a friend of my Mother’s to state that to her, a European ex-pat, California is where one can reinvent themselves numerous times over the course of their lives, and that’s okay. Earlier that day, I met a friend for lunch, and afterward strolled over to her boyfriend’s office, where I met him and found that he runs an entire company (at the age of twenty-eight) wearing a t-shirt and jeans. There are grown-ups running and raising families in cooperative businesses (The Juice Bar collective, The Cheese board, etc.). In Berkeley, it’s a system that works.
Anyway, coming from cold, grey Portland, I was easily seduced by all of this. There's the weather, and then all there's the food! I mean, within moments after I arrived at at the airport, I was enjoying a delicate shrimp and avocado salad at the Cliff House, taking in the a breathtaking view with the sun gleaming high above the sea.
There is so much delicious, fresh and inventive food to consume in the Bay Area, that my strategy was not to seek out large, extravagant meals, but instead to nibble my way through those four days. Which I did with satisfaction.
One place that is a mecca for this type of grazing is the Ferry Building, which houses a mall of gourmet shops and restaurants of the highest quality. Two days a week they hold one of the most beautiful farmer’s markets that I’ve ever seen, with chef’s demonstrations on Saturdays. We arrived there mid-morning on our first day in the city, and didn’t have much time before we were to catch the ferry to Sausalito (which honestly bears an incredible resemblance to the island of Capri, or the Italian Riviera—a little piece of Europe in America). So we grabbed a couple of lattes and I got a cinnamon roll from Acme bakery (the famous bakery that supplies most of the most esteemed restaurants in the city with their table bread). That cinnamon roll was my favorite kind—not the grotesque bready or gooey kind, but the type that seems like the baker took some croissant dough, sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar and just rolled it a different way. Mmm...
When we returned from our ferry ride, it was, conveniently lunch time (okay, I planned it that way). We poked our heads into the various restaurants, open kitchens bustling with cooks preparing daily specials. My mom chose some chicken soup, but I decided to try Japanese food from the most impressive Japanese deli, DelicaRf-1.
I think I’ve mentioned this place before—bustling, efficient, clean and healthy, their cases are filled with mounds of seaweed salad and trays of beautiful delicacies. They sell bentos for super-speedy lunches, or pick-your-own combinations at the counter. I had a chicken-tofu cake (a dense and flavorful patty laced with onion and hijiki and topped with daikon), hijiki seaweed salad (rich and black, decorated with bright green soybeans and chewy mountain yam gelatin), and mizuna greens with carrot and marinated lotus root salad. They also had these amazingly alien looking things that were messy balls of veggie tempura—check ‘em out...