Monthly Archives: June 2011

San Francisco City Tour

Recently I had some family in town and in true form, we took San Francisco by storm! This is one of the things I love about this city — there is so many things to do, sometimes it is hard to fit it all in a short time! As a local, it’s also really fun to slow down, take a deep breath and enjoy San Francisco through the eyes of a tourist.

Day 1 began with the Tour de Ferry Building. We arrived at the busiest time, but that was quite alright given that we were all in the spirit to eat. After strolling by all of the produce outdoors, we entered through Sur La Table and made our first purchase: El Porteno Empanadas. We ordered the Fugazzeta (aged cheddar, onions, oregano) which I found tasty but not too exciting, and the Champinones (local organic mushrooms by Far West Fungi, shallots, parmesan cheese, crème fraiche) which was delicious, earthy and much more complex.

El Porteno Empanadas Stand

As we wandered along, some stopped for vegetarian spring rolls and the interestingly-flavored ICIO Water.

ICIO Water - blood orange tarragon and black currant blueberry

I, however, had my heart set on Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick. I’m a lover of all things cheese, so naturally I went for the gold: Burrata with seasonal vegetables and herbs served atop arugula with crostini and dressed with McEvoy Olive Oil. Drool. My aunt and cousin went for the grilled cheese of the day — that sandwich was very good as well.

Cowgirl Creamery's Milkshed Map

Then we hopped on the F-line and took it down to the start of our San Francisco hop-on hop-off city tour in Fisherman’s Wharf. The tour took us to all of the popular neighborhoods (Golden Gate Park, The Haight, Civic Center, SoMa, Union Square, Chinatown) and I was quite surprised by how many “fun facts” I learned about San Francisco.


San Francisco's breathtaking architecture

I’ve included some of them below just for funsies!

  • The Spreckels mansion is the largest house city in San Francisco – yes we all know that Miss Danielle Steel now resides in that [not so] humble abode
  • The term “Sugar Daddy” was first coined by Alma Spreckels when speaking of her husband, Adoph Spreckles, the sugar baron
  • Any house painted three or more colors is considered a “Painted Lady”
  • That is actually real gold on the City Hall dome!
  • Alma is also the model for the monument in Union Square honoring naval hero Admiral Dewey and the assassinated president William McKinley
  • Twelve faceless statues sit atop 580 California called the “Corporate Goddesses”. These faceless statues are there to remind those in the banking industry to “be honest, even when you think no one is watching”.
  • Denim was invented in San Francisco during the Gold Rush because miners needed durable clothes to wear
  • The Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall is designed to look like a baby piano from the outside – if you look closely you can see the white keys, black keys and strings inside.

City Hall

The "Corporate Goddesses"

Day 2 began with a stroll through the North Beach Festival – fairs and festivals are a really great opportunity for visitors and natives alike to get out in the sunshine, check out local vendors and people watch.

North Beach Festival from above

Street art at the festival

After we had our fill at the North Beach Festival, we hightailed it through Chinatown, down into Union Square and hopped on MUNI underground because we all had one track minds — we wanted to devour some sandwiches from Ike’s Place! Once our sandwiches were ready after a brief wait (Tom Brady with vegan breaded chicken, garlic and herb sauce, mushrooms, avocado and cheddar for me), we trekked over to Dolores Park. At the park everyone was happy to give their little feet a break at the park and enjoy the local flavor! We all know what I think about Ike’s (see Ike’s Place, Dolores Park & Bi-Rite Creamery) so no need to get into detail on how delicious they were.

After we were finished, we made our way back the hotel room to enjoy a glass of wine and some good family time before everyone had to part ways. It was amazing how much ground one can cover in a single weekend in San Francisco — also, important to note that I figured out what a walking drill sergeant I can be. So when I say “oh it’s just a couple blocks”, it really is 5-10 blocks. In my defense, San Francisco is such a walking city — you hardly even notice the distance you’ve gone when you walk by yourself! However even I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed putting my feel up for a rest, sipping red wine and surveying the rooftops from the balcony. This was the perfect way to play tour guide and show my relatives San Francisco’s best!

B.R. Cohn and Ghirardelli Chocolate - nice pairing.

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Filed under Family Ties, Neighborhoods, San Francisco, SF, Things to do in sf, Weekend Warrior

Food for thought…

A friend recently shared this with me and I felt that it was profound enough to pass along. Enjoy!


Happiness cannot be found through great effort and willpower,
But is already present, in open relaxation and letting go.

Don’t strain yourself,
There is nothing to do or undo,
Whatever momentarily arises in the body-mind has no real importance at all,
Has little reality whatsoever.
Why identify with, and become attached to it,
Passing judgment upon it and ourselves?

Far better to simply let the entire game happen on its own,
Springing up and falling back like waves-
Without changing or manipulating anything-
And notice how everything vanishes and reappears, magically, again and again,
Time without end.

Only our searching for happiness prevents us from seeing it.
It’s like a vivid rainbow which you pursue without ever catching,
Or a dog chasing its own tail.
Although peace and happiness do not exist as an actual thing or place,
It is always available and accompanies you every instant.

Don’t believe in the reality of good and bad experiences;
They are like today is ephemeral weather,
Rainbow in the sky.

Wanting to grasp the ungraspable,
And exhaust yourself in vain.
As soon as you open and relax this tight fist of grasping,
Infinite space is there- open, inviting, and comfortable.
Make use of this spaciousness, this freedom and natural ease,
Don’t search any further.
Don’t go into the tangled jungle looking for the great awakened elephant,
Who is already resting quietly at home in front of your own hearth.
Nothing to do or undo.
Nothing to force,
Nothing to want,
And nothing missing-

Emaho! Marvelous!
Everything happens by itself.

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Filed under Quoteable

City of Dreams & House of Air

Giving back to the community is always a surefire way to warm your heart from the inside out. It’s true — there are many ways you can contribute and donating money is one of them. But actually participating and getting your hands “dirty” so to speak is when you really start to feel the impact of donating your time.

Recently I spent a day with City of Dreams out in The Presidio. City of Dreams is a local non-profit that works with at-risk youth through involvement and mentorship to build better futures for kids in the Hunter’s Point/Bayview area. I’ve never had experience working with youth and I gave up babysitting when I dropped a 1 year old on its head (on accident!) so I didn’t know how I would fare in providing guidance and direction. Turns out, I guess I wasn’t too bad!

We all met up at the hostel at Fort Mason where I was introduced to the kids and we all enjoyed lunch. There were many other mentors who were very close with their mentees and had been working with them closely on a mural project. Earlier in the year the kids got together to brainstorm the stereotype of the Hunter’s Point/Bayview district and the actual diverse, complex neighborhood it is, and painted two separate murals. The goal is to show visitors that San Francisco has so much more to it than simply the “ghetto” neighborhoods that some assume plague metropolitan cities.

The kids presented these colorful murals that day and they are now on display in the hostels downtown. They were so astute and  realize that they have the ability to control their future. I also felt very privileged to hear a powerful poem written by one of the main mural project contributors about the struggles of living in this oft-forgotten community.

House of Air

Our theme of the day was “self-esteem” and we continued on to House of Air to continue our lessons in building self-confidence. I loved seeing how excited and happy the kids were to be at HOA! House of Air is an indoor trampoline park in The Presidio where you may reserve jumping slots by the hours and can even indulge your inner six-year old and play dodgeball! And that we did. Not only was it fun jumping around the trampolines with the kids, but I was ESCATIC to finally check out this place that I’ve been hearing about with such rave reviews. The youths had endless energy while the adults (at least me) needed a few breaks.

House of Air


After our hour of monkey jumping, dodgeball-ing and back-flipping, we all gathered around for a group photo. It was a bittersweet moment to hug everyone from City of Dreams goodbye, but I left with an extra pep in my step knowing that we all can make a difference in someone else’s life. I definitely recommend this as a self-esteem boost that no amount of money can buy!

Mentees and mentors hard at work

Love these kids!

I also found this awesome website called One Brick which lists volunteer opportunities by date. The best part is that there’s no obligation — just sign up when you are available!

“Love without limits!”

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Filed under Empowerment, San Francisco, Things to do in sf

Cotogna San Francisco

Cotogna, which means “quince” in Italian (more on that later), is the hottest reservation in town. The first available table for 2 on a random OpenTable search is TUESDAY, June 28th and [again] TUESDAY July 5th. My next search attempt for a Saturday brought back nothing, so this is proof that Chef Michael Tusk has created something exceedingly grand over on this corner of Pacific and Montgomery in Jackson Square. Next door is Quince, Tusk’s fine-dining, white-table cloth establishment. Yes that is where to go if you’re on the expense account. Cotogna, however, is the more casual compliment to the other dining destination.

On this particular occasion, The Dapper Diner and I walked over to Cotogna after a pre-dinner cocktail at 15 Romolo. We arrived and were seated at a great table by the window. (Side note: I totally love sitting closely to other tables and especially when you know the ones around you are on first dates.) After ordering a cocktail, Chef Michael Tusk sent out a dish – it was Fava Beans Five Ways. This was a perfect dish to represent one of the best vegetables of the spring season. We also tried the thick slices of the house made Duck Paté on crostini with Cherry Mostarda. It was the perfect salty-sweet combination.

Fava Beans 5-Ways

Duck Pate

Then for the Antipasti course we ordered the Burrata Cheese with Beets & Mache and Wild Nettle Sformato with Grana Padano. I can’t express how much I love burrata and the creamy, rich cheese pairs excellently with the tangy roasted beets and the mild flavor of mache lettuce. The nettle dish was extremely delectable and reminded me of a custard or a savory flan.

Burrata Cheese Dish

Wild Nettle Sformato

We moved onto the “La Griglia” course with the Spit Roasted Pork Loin with Fennel and the Leg of Lamb with Artichoke & English Peas. Both dishes were perfectly cooked, moist and delicious. But honestly, would I expect anything less from the 2011 James Beard Foundation winner for “Best Chef: Pacific“?!

Pork Loin Dish

Lamb Dish

Naturally, we finished with a Dolci course of Bomboloni with Ricotta, Kumquat & Limoncello sauce and drove over to Benu for a glass of champagne. All in all it was a lovely evening!


Advice for Cotogna: either 1) make a friend on the inside who can get you a reso, 2) plan well in advance, or 3) get there early to grab a bar seat. Don’t forget to check out the $24 prix fixe menu as well!

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Filed under Restaurants, San Francisco

Ike’s Place, Dolores Park & Bi-Rite Creamery

I am just a teensy-bit embarrassed to admit that I have only just had Ike’s Place for the first time. I blame the tales of the 2 hour wait time and that I don’t get out to the Upper Market-area too often, but when I no longer had an excuse (and why the hell would I?!) on a lovely Sunday I finally crossed the threshold.

I was surprised and very delighted to find a very minimal line when we walked up. We all know about the slew of media coverage surrounding the old Ike’s Place location (damn those NIMBYs), so it’s nice to see that everything worked out and that Ike is on to bigger and better things (like having the #1 sandwich, Matt Cain, in ESPN’s Fanwich).  Ike is super friendly and while I already knew what I wanted to order (Menage A Trois), he offered to help my girlfriends with their selections. One could certainly go into menu overload with the list they’ve got goin’ on here.

An original Ike's Place menu

We got a little behind-the-scenes tour and were able to see where all of the magic happens. And by magic, I mean the assembling of these mouth-wateringly delicious sandwiches. He gave us Ike’s Place t-shirts as well…I hope we count as honorary Ike’s Club Members 😉 Did you know that every employee must memorize each sandwiches name, number and ingredients? I counted 80 creations on the menu page. These people must be brilliant.

Kitchen shot. It's a big kitchen.

I also asked Ike how he came up with all of those sandwiches and their names. Trial and error, he said, and also mentioned that there were some that were never made for human consumption. If you ask me additions like mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers and deep-fried zucchini sticks sound inventive and oh-so-sinful! He said that naming the initial sandwiches were difficult, but now it is a cinch. Hmm…I am already wondering what my own creation would be and what I would name it! By the way “Womanizer” and “We’re JUST Friends” are taken.

Menage A Trois: halal chicken, real honey, honey mustard, bbq, pepper jack, swiss, cheddar

After the short wait we walked over to Dolores Park to enjoy lunch because it was such a beautiful day in San Francisco. Dogs and strollers were out in full effect! I know everyone raves about Ike’s but BOY OH BOY the Menage A Trois was AH-MAZING. It was so juicy and zesty, and every bite was as good as the last. It was definitely a dense sandwich with sauce dripping out onto my pants (oops), but there was no way I could not finish the entire thing. And that I did. The sandwich comes with those cute caramel apple pops that bring me back to my elementary school days — nice touch.

Dolores Park

Dolores Park Take 2

I decided to complete the whole Mission experience with dessert from Bi-Rite Creamery, a local shop specializing in organic ingredients and small-batch products. I learned this tip from a friend: if you want to avoid the long ice cream lines, try the soft serve line. The Salted Caramel Soft Serve is to-die-for and has less calories than the ice cream version. Or at least that is what I keep telling myself. This flavor is so decadent that it doesn’t even need any additional toppings, but make sure to get it on a cone to complete the experience.

Bi-Rite Creamery

Salted Caramel Soft Serve

Ike says that he eats his sandwiches 3 times a day. I don’t know if I could go that far, but I am already planning my next trip back (and it may or may or not be next weekend). I highly recommend enjoying your selection in Dolores Park and topping it off with some Bi-Rite. Can you say food coma?!


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Filed under Restaurants, San Francisco, Things to do in sf, Weekend Warrior

Yosemite National Park

Vacation alert! Looking for a quick fix to get away and recharge your batteries? Located just a short 4 hour drive from San Francisco, Yosemite National Park is the perfect vacation — get in touch with your inner naturalist!

Entering Yosemite

I think an ideal time to go there is in April, right before high season starts. There will be some snow but it’s just warm enough to enjoy hiking and frolicking among the Giant Sequoias. Another helpful tip is to avoid the long holiday weekends like Memorial Day, as it can get so crowded that they turn people away at the park gate.

Unfortunately, when I recently made a trip to Yosemite with my family I was not able to hike Half Dome but I hear that it is amazing! Permits are required to hike Half Dome seven days a week — click here for details. We did, however, trek around the park, relax at our cabin, and have an all around silly good time.

Half Dome

If you can afford it the Ahwahnee Hotel is a beautiful place to stay and also rates aren’t too bad at the Wawona Hotel. Or even rough it out in a campsite! Either way, the great outdoors is a perfect break from The City. You’ll hear birds chirping, spot deer and breath in the crisp, clean air.

Giant Sequoia Tree

I posted all the pictures in my Flickr set. Check ’em out!

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Filed under Family Ties, Vacation, Weekend Warrior

Fifth Floor Restaurant

Fifth Floor Restaurant is one of those San Francisco classics located in Hotel Palomar downtown. Sometimes hotel restaurants can get a bad wrap, but definitely NOT in San Francisco and at this at this Michelin-starred resto, especially with its classy yet contemporary space. The [chef] torch has been passed from George Morrone to Laurent Gras, Melissa Perello (who has since opened Frances) to Laurent Manrique, then Jennie Lorenzo and now Executive Chef David Bazirgan has stepped up to helm the kitchen. And that he does, with fabulously creative dishes. Did I mention he was voted Eater’s Hottest Chef in America?

I recently met The Dapper Diner here in the lounge area, which is a great spot to converge with friends, co-workers, or even a date. You can order off the dining room menu and still chat with the friendly, knowledgeable bartenders. Did I mention these bartenders know their stuff? Yep — order any one of the delicious concoctions from the list or have them whip up a cocktail at their whimsy. On this particular occasion I was introduced to Fernet-Branca, the so-called “Bartender’s Handshake” (it’s a San Francisco thing).

Fernet – it’ll put hair on your chest

We started with a Smoked Salmon Amuse Bouche, which was a perfect way to set the tone for a fabulous dinner. Then we had two salads: the Asparagus and Hearts of Palm Salad with speck, sorrel, aleppo pepper, pink lemon vinaigrette and Roasted Baby Beet Salad with compressed strawberries.

Salmon Amuse Bouche
Asparagus and Hearts of Palm Salad
Beet Salad

Then we moved on to the real reason for our visit — the soft shell crab. We had the Soft Shell Po’boy and the Deconstructed Soft Shell Crab. It was absolutely divine! Chef Baz paid us a visit and brought out a Wagyu Beef dish as well as a Lamb Kidney dish. I wish I had written down all of the details of these dishes, but feel free to draw conclusions and drool over the photos! I won’t try to butcher the work of an artist.

Soft Shell Po’Boy
More Soft Shell Crab
Lamb Kidney Dish
Wagyu Beef Dish

Conclusion: Baz sure knows his stuff and is continuing the tradition of top chefs at Fifth Floor Restaurant! I can’t wait to stop back in.


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Filed under Restaurants, San Francisco, SF, Things to do in sf, Weekend Warrior