Left My Heart in San Francisco – Twice

The last time I was in San Francisco was 2004, and I coincidentally left behind a small part of my heart. Eight years later, during my spring break from culinary school, I had the opportunity to reclaim it.

San Francisco is one of my top two favorite cities in the country (Philadelphia, my current stomping ground being the other), so I was thrilled to be able to share my love of SF with Dave, and retrieve that piece of my heart.

We split our 5 days in the Bay area between San Francisco and Napa.  The bread of our sandwich was time spent in SF.  The first night we stayed at the Hotel Vertigo in Nob Hill.  I am a huge Hitchcock fan, so I was excited to stay where they filmed the second part of the movie Vertigo.  During the filming it was The Empire Hotel, now it offers lodging in chic surroundings.

After checking in, we laboriously walked the hills from Nob Hill to Fisherman’s Wharf.  The only reprieve were the views from the top.

I was jonesing for some fresh Dungeness crab and assumed Fisherman’s Wharf would be the perfect spot.  I imagined it would be similar to what you can find in Maine; fresh lobster right off the boat.  We did see live crabs, but what we mostly saw was a big tourist trap.Thanks to modern technology, we searched Yelp for the best place to find fresh crab in Fisherman’s Wharf.  It referred us to Scoma’s, a long-standing overpriced Rat Pack-era restaurant, where even at lunch the servers are wearing white dinner jackets and tuxedo pants.  We still ordered Dungeness crab cocktail (which was admittedly fresh), a trio of Pacific Coast oysters, and two Stella Artois.  After a $50 lunch, I was over this place.

Next was on to the famous Ghirardelli Square, not far from Fisherman’s Wharf.

We quickly walked through the Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Manufactory, that had rooms of gift basket and samplings of their famous chocolate squares.  No need for a souvenir since you can buy Ghirardelli nationwide.  Across the square is Kara’s Cupcakes which has a variety of creative cupcakes and is good for a sweet snack if you are in the neighborhood.

We trekked back to the hotel to get ready for the Counting Crows concert at the Fox Theater in Oakland.  We grabbed a bite in the neighborhood at Nob Hill Grille, where they offer decent gastropub fare.  I felt like a certified San Franciscan, eating at a local obscure joint.  When in Rome….

I love me some Adam Duritz, so I was excited to see the Counting Crows for the 7th time in the area where they formed.  The concert itself wasn’t one of my favorites, but the venue rocked.  I’m a sucker for an Art Deco theater, and The Fox Theater met all of my expectations.  The intricate craftsmanship on the ceiling alone was amazing!

After two wonderful days in Napa, (which I’ll tell you about in a subsequent post), we headed back to the City By The Bay.  We made a wrong turn somewhere, and ended up taking the Bay Bridge back instead of the Golden Gate as originally planned.  But it was a blessing in disguise.  I needed a pit stop, so we got off at Treasure Island, which turned out to have amazing views of the skyline (and bathrooms too).

Once we crossed the bridge, we headed towards the Golden Gate and snapped some obligatory touristy pictures.

We were getting hungry for lunch, and I was determined to go where the Tanner’s, Uncle Jesse, and Uncle Joey lived.  Turns out it is called “Alamo Square.”  We grabbed sandwiches to go at Alamo Square Cafe, and had a picnic in the square, overlooking the city, and the famous “Painted Ladies.”

Dave had made all the dinner reservations before we left and kept them a secret.  At the time of our trip I was eating mainly a plant-based diet, and he surprised me with dinner at what was touted on the internet as the “Best Vegan Restaurant” in San Francisco, named Millennium.  And it happened to be right across the street from our second hotel, Hotel Monaco.  They did a nice job of creating dishes that made the vegetables sing with flavor, plus Dave found a new favorite potato, the Kennebec potato.  But overall, we were underwhelmed.  Vedge in Philadelphia is much better for vegan fare.

For a night cap, we went to Top of the Mark, on the 19th floor of the InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel.  With beautiful views of the city, this is a romantic spot – perfect for a date or evening out with your special someone.

I purposely, I mean accidentally, forgot to take my heart back with me on the plane. Oops!  Ironically, Dave said he left part of his stomach in Napa, specifically at Bouchon.  I guess that means we’ll have to go back soon.

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Sauteed String Beans with Tomatoes and Almonds

This recipe for sauteed string beans with tomatoes and almonds is an easy and healthy side dish to serve with any meal. And quick too!  Blanching the string beans first allows them to keep their bright green color.

String Beans with Tomatoes and Almonds
1 lb green beans or haricot verts
1 Tbsp olive oil or butter
1 – 2 beefsteak tomatoes
1/2 cup of slivered almonds

1. Blanch the green beans – Bring a pot of water to a boil, and cook the green beans for 2 – 3 minutes or until they are bright green.  Immediately emerge them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.  Meanwhile, cut tomatoes into wedges.

2.  Place a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the oil and swirl pan to coat.  Add green beans to skillet and cook for about 2 minutes.  *Note:  don’t cook too long or they will lose their bright green color.

3.  Arrange green beans on plate or platter and garnish with tomatoes and almonds.

Favorite Crispy Fried-Fish Tacos

Has this ever happened to you:  a magazine subscription starts showing up in your mailbox, and your not sure how it got there? This happened to me (twice actually), and it is how I ended up getting this recipe for fish tacos which has become a favorite in our household.

My only explanation is that I must have subscribed to a trial offer for Food and Wine magazine a few years back, and had forgotten about it.  I only received a few issues, however every year after, their annual cookbooks started showing up at my doorstep.  This recipe is from the 2011 edition.

Dave and I started making these Asian crispy fried-fish tacos within the first few months of our courtship.  Now they are often in our week night meal rotation. For me, it’s the hoisin mayonnaise that makes this dish worthwhile.  For Dave, I think he just likes to fry things. Admittedly, the prep work is a little time consuming, but you’ll thank me when it’s all over.  Even if you have dishes overflowing in the sink.

Note:  It’s helpful to have an oil/candy thermometer on hand to monitor the temperature of the oil.

Crispy Fried-Fish Tacos
From Tomas Lee via Food & Wine Annual Cookbook 2011
Makes 12 Tacos

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp sweet pickle relish
1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1 lb tilapia filets, cut into 4-by-1-inch strips
2 large eggs, beaten
3 cups panko bread crumbs
3 cups vegetable oil, for frying
12 corn tortillas, warmed
Shredded green cabbage, lettuce leaves, cilantro and sliced scallions, for serving

1. In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the hoisin sauce, sweet pickle relish and fresh lemon juice and set aside.

2. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and white pepper.  Seal the bag and shake.  Add the fish and shake to coat.

3.  Put the eggs and panko in separate shallow bowls.  Dip the fish in the egg and then in the panko. Transfer the fish to a wax paper-lined platter.

4. In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil to 350 degrees.  Add half the fish and fry over moderate heat, turning once, until golden, about 3 minutes.  Drain the fish on a paper towel-lined platter. Repeat with the remaining fish.  Serve the fish in the tortillas, passing the hoisin mayonnaise, cabbage, lettuce, cilantro and scallions for serving.