Keep Calm and Ferry On

I’ve been given a homework assignment: Between now and next Tuesday write two blogs about food. And frankly, I have no excuse not to do it. After finding myself recently (and hopefully very temporarily) unemployed I’ve been doing one of two things- staying home in sweats and watching a disgusting amount of TV while eating take-out or spending lots of money (that I don’t have) adventuring around the city eating and drinking with friends. Either way, I’m eating.

Today was a productive day; an early doctor’s appointment got me out of bed at an hour that I otherwise would have ignored entirely. Having woken up late and hungry, I joined the masses at Whole Foods for my caffeine fix and a blueberry scone. I have to admit, if there was somewhere else within a block of my house to get coffee when I’m running late, I would go there in a heartbeat. Unfortunately all I have is the Steep Brew at WF. In my opinion, their coffee beans are over roasted and a little harsh. The scone was pretty good, but if you really want a scone that will make you abandon your diet and surrender to your fat pants, Batter Bakery on Polk is where it’s at.  Paula Dean, the Queen of Butter, would be tickled at the amount of glorious fat packed into those bad boys. Somehow, they manage to be flaky, creamy and crumbly all at the same time; and packed with fresh fruit to boot.

Lunch was a tame turkey sandwich at home while I waited for the clock to signal that it was time for me to go get my hair cut. Three hours and one fabulous new ‘do later, I was starving. I had two choices, go home and eat pita chips and hummus or call my friend Michelle to see if she was interested in cocktails and noshing. Obviously, I chose option two. We decided on the Ferry Plaza Building, and true to my word, I made sure we went somewhere that I had previously been unaware of- Hog Island Oyster Company! To be fair, I’ve actually been to the Hog Island in Tomales Bay, but I had not been to eat at their spot in the Ferry Building- or the one in the Oxbow Market in Napa for that matter.

I’ll pretty much eat anything that comes out of the ocean, so I like oysters, but being from Kentucky means I’m not exactly well-versed in oyster flavor profiles. I decided to try the 6-oyster sampling so I could do a little compare/contrast. With the help of Michelle’s serving expertise I was able to determine that I prefer Pacific Ocean oysters to Atlantic but that I also really like Kumamotos (from Japan) and a certain oyster from Long Island called a Naked Cowboy.  (I mean really, how could you not like something named after MTV’s favorite Times Square personality?) Paired with some epi bread generously schmeared with butter, a lovely frisee and beet salad topped with lemon cucumbers, daikon and a zinfandel vinaigrette and a glass of Domain Carneros Brut Rose, how could I go wrong?

I could have easily stopped there, belly full of oysters and bubbles, but we’re hardcore foodies so we soldiered on.  Next stop, the Wine Merchant for some vino, cheese and of course, more bread. Man may not live on bread alone, but add some cheese and a nice glass of wine and I think he’ll get along just fine.

If you’re shopping through the Ferry Building for picnic stuffs to enjoy in the park across the street or maybe on a bench along the pier, the Wine Merchant is a must. I can’t say for sure that it’s the only place that sells bottles in the building, but its certainly the best selection. On the whole, the Ferry Building is a wealthy picnic aficionado’s utopia; under one roof you can go to Frog Hollow for fruit, Cowgirl Creamery for cheese, Boccalone for meats, Acme Bread Co. for, well, bread, Miette for pastries or Ciao Bella for gelato, and the Village Market for produce. Sounds pretty perfect to me.

I had been into the Wine Merchant before a couple of times to peruse the wine selection, so nicely categorized by type and country that even my obsessive compulsions for organization are put at ease, but I had never sat down to have a glass of wine. They offer a number of wines that you can enjoy by the taste, glass, caraffe or bottle and a nice selection of cheese and charcuterie pairings. There are also two flights you can try with a custom cheese pairing if you so choose. We opted to pretend we were on vacation in Italy; a glass of Il Mosnel Franciacorta for Michelle, 2010 Coefner Vin d’ Seigneurs Mayolet for me, and burratta with epi (yes, again) to share. Michelle’s Italianate champs was a deliciously sophisticated contrast to the flirty pink bubbles we had been sipping with our oysters earlier. I opted for the Mayolet instead of the Sangiovese that had previously caught my eye because I had never tried this particular varietal and felt up for a challenge. Our server told me it was something he turned to as an alternative to Pinot Noir when he was in the mood for a light-bodied, spicy red.  It was incredibly light, but maintained a nice amount of body, had the aroma of sediment (in a good way) and tasted like ripe plums with toasted spices. In other (less wine-snobby) words, it was delicious. Paired with a bite of olive oil drenched burrata, it was even better.

Luckily, Michelle had somewhere to be, forcing our glorious gluttonous afternoon to come to an end.  My waistline and wardrobe are safe for another day. But it probably wouldn’t hurt to start looking into gym memberships…

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I’ll take that with a side of perspective, please

I constantly have to remind myself that I’ve only been living in San Francisco for three months and that allowing myself to be in any kind of rut this early on is completely unacceptable. Sure, I’ve wandered into most of the neighborhoods in town- Pacific Heights, the Marina, North Beach, Union Square, the Financial District, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Ferry Building, the Mission, the Castro, Inner and Outer Sunset, Golden Gate Park… but its not like I’ve really explored them all in depth. Walking down Chestnut Street one time does not mean that you’ve seen all that the Marina has to offer. That’s like taking a stroll down Bardstown Road in Louisville and saying you’ve experienced the Highlands.

That said, I’ve been to the Ferry Plaza building a couple of times and always like it there, even if it is crowded with tourists who lack any sense of personal space. I thought I knew what the building had to offer; the standard tourist spiel- an indoor farmer’s market along the pier full of shops and eateries. And yes, that’s what it is, but it wasn’t until I met up with an old friend from Louisville for lunch this past week that I took the blinders off and saw the Ferry building in all of its glory. We met up at lunchtime to grab a bite and catch up and guided by Kurt’s craving for some seafood ended up at the Fish Market sitting on stools and gossiping about mutual friends while we nibbled on our fried oyster po’boys. We shared the small L-shaped counter with a family, another set of friends, and a couple of corporate-types escaping from the sea of Subway sandwich shops in the nearby Financial District.

It being my weekend and a gorgeous day, I decided to join my friend for a walk along the piers; not to mention, 30 minutes is not nearly enough time to catch up on a year’s worth of gossip and life. We left the Ferry building through the back where I discovered there were restaurants I had no idea existed- with outdoor seating and an amazing view of the bay no less. I stood there gazing out onto the water kicking myself for not having been more observant in the past, thinking to myself ‘We could have eaten out here you idiot! This is a mistake I assure you I will not be making again.

As we strolled North towards Fisherman’s Wharf, with the bay breeze blowing my curly hair into knots, Kurt kept commenting how beautiful it was here and how lucky I am to live here. I looked out onto the water, Angel Island and Alcatraz floating before me, and realized that I really was lucky to be living here. We stopped into a restaurant that was advertising waterfront seating for a glass of wine and ended up sitting out back at a small table with bar stools, our backs against the side of the building looking into the u-shaped dock formed by the surrounding buildings and out onto the bay with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, obscured by a little bit of fog. The water lapped up against the sides of the pier building as sea gulls floated along, taking a break from tourist-tormenting. The perfect backdrop for discussing life and our scary and as yet undetermined futures. Having older friends is a nice source of retrospective advice as well as a reassuring reminder that no one really ever has their lives figured out completely.

Post-wine, our stroll led us into the insanity of Pier 39 and eventually Fisherman’s Wharf where the conversation became a little bit distracted due to tourist dodging and pushy crowds gathered around absurd street performers. Once we broke through the t-shirt shops and made it past the ridiculously long line for the Powell Street cable car, we found ourselves along the water on the mini-beach where I watched fireworks over the bay on the Fourth of July. Thinking that this was as far as you could go in this direction, I was ready to turn around and head into Russian Hill, but Kurt kept moving forward, finding a trail and a park that I hadn’t known existed. Our stroll took us up a steep hill into a small but gorgeous forest-area and finally out into a park that led eventually to the Marina waterfront. (Did I mention that I was wearing cheap ballet flats this whole time?) By the time we found ourselves on Chestnut Street, it was after four and Kurt had a dinner to get to. Having only hailed cabs from busy intersections at night, I didn’t think it would be a problem to grab one off of Lombard in the early evening on a weeknight. How wrong I was. Twenty minutes and three intersections later, we finally found a cab and I sent Kurt on his way. Happy and tired, I headed home to crash on the couch.

…until I got a text from my friend Katherine and her boyfriend Luke, inviting me over to have dinner.  I allowed myself to melt into the couch for 45 minutes and then pulled myself back out, grabbed wine and headed out to the bus. They live in the Inner Sunset, not exactly close to my studio in Pacific Heights, but easy enough to get to via bus according to my phone. One bus to VanNess and Market and then the 71 into the Sunset, which drops me off less than a block from their place. Easy enough! The first 71 came and it was so packed full of people that I opted to wait for the next one. Thirty minutes later, another 71 bus comes aaaaaaannnddd passes the bus stop without even pretending to stop. Really?! Cue crazy homeless man. I knew we were in for a show when he ran across the street to the bus stop, layers of clothes interestingly assembled including a girl’s jacket tied around his waist like an apron/skirt and an inflatable guitar. I turned up my headphones and avoided eye contact. This was easy enough until he found a pair of underwear on the ground and proceeded to scream about how he gets paid for sex often, interjecting every few sentences with “It’s all about the booty baby!” It was sort of funny at first, but after 15 minutes of yelling, started to get obscene and a little scary so I cautiously moved down a few yards, stationing myself between some normal-looking middle aged men. It had been another half hour at this point and it was significantly colder outside than it had been when I was out strolling earlier; my light sweater and flats weren’t exactly doing the trick.  I stared down the street willing the right bus to come. At this point I would hang off the side of it if there wasn’t enough room inside. Luckily it didn’t come to that, but when the bus finally arrived it was definitely crowded. I was relieved when I looked through the bus and noted that the crazy man had not decided to get on the bus. Moments later however, I realized that I had traded him for another; a drunk, unshowered twenty-something dangling off of the hand bar, grasping an empty milk carton and singing the wrong words to “Build Me Up Buttercup.” He seemed harmless enough until he stepped on the foot of another passenger who kicked him in return. Then he started freaking out. Yelling about how there were so many nice people in the world trying to do cool things and being shut down by mean, ignorant, bastards like this guy. Headphones up, wine concealed under my purse, please let him get off soon before they have the chance to start fighting. He finally got off in the Haight, the rest of the passengers in the back collectively breathing sighs of relief. A few more stops and I was finally to my destination, greeted with smiles and food and music. Let’s open that wine, shall we?

You can bet your bottoms I took a cab home that night.

What happened to my great city day? It went from delightful to disaster in one bus transfer. That’s life in the city I suppose; you can be in your own little utopia one moment and turn the corner to find yourself in a less desirable locale or situation without realizing it. If the whole city was Chestnut Street on a sunny day, would we even really be able to appreciate the little things? As ugly as it can be sometimes, a little bit of perspective might be just what we need to make us realize just how good we have it.  San Francisco is full of perspective, and maybe that’s why people that live here love their city so much- because they know how lucky they are to be here.

You Are *Here*

There’s something to be said for living alone. Sitting around in your underwear, hair unbrushed, embarrassing music blasting is a rather glorious feeling. That said, I’m single and I live with my cat- not such a glamorous introduction at the bar. Today, however, I am basking in the positivity of the privacy and homey comfort of my overpriced studio. Until I have to go to work that is.

Some of you may be disappointed to know that the point of this post is not to talk about the underwear dance parties that Oreo and I have on an almost daily basis, but rather my thoughts on public transportation. First, let me say that without a map (and sometimes, even with) my sense of direction is…nonexistent. It once took me three hours to get my friends and I back home to Louisville after a Ben Folds concert in Cincinnati, which is a mere hour and a half drive away. At most. With public transportation I have a little bit more luck. The opportunity to double check one’s route while waiting for the next train or bus makes things a little bit less risky. That said, I did take the right bus in the wrong direction the other day and rather than ending up in Pacific Heights, I found myself at AT&T Park. I decided a long time ago to treat these navigational errors as adventures to places that I might not have discovered otherwise.

I think that without the handy dandy Google maps app on my iPhone I would be completely lost in this city. Meeting a friend for dinner would be much like it is described in Pride and Prejudice and would take me a day to get to my destination and another to get home and therefore would require me to stay wherever I had gone for at least a week.  San Francisco isn’t actually that large of a city, but with all of the hills and buildings and people everywhere its easy to get distracted and very very lost. Without even realizing it, you can go from a really nice neighborhood to a really not nice area in a block.

My journey to work everyday is very convenient; I get on the bus right outside my front door, get off about 10 blocks later, walk three, and voila! Very easy, yes. Normal? Not so much. When I get on the bus I’m included in the 20% that represents non-Asian passengers. About halfway through my route the signs on buildings start to change from English to a combination of English and Chinese and eventually just Chinese. The bus safety announcements are broadcast in English, Spanish and Chinese. At this point I am part of the 5% of non-Asian passengers, and suddenly I find myself in a completely different country. There are red lanterns strung across the streets, junk shops selling golden waving cats and giant buddahs and markets selling produce that I definitely didn’t study in culinary school. How did I manage to travel all the way to Hong Kong in 2 miles? Half of the bus unloads, allowing me the luxury of sitting for the last few stops. Two blocks down and the park is full of children playing on the elaborate jungle gym designed to look like something out of Mulan, while all around the edges, on benches and sidewalks, old men are either playing chess or watching it being played. One more block and it all starts to fade, back to double translations and an Italian restaurant and Subway thrown in the mix. Another block and we’ve reached the heart of the financial district. Starbucks and Peet’s have long lines of suit-clad corporate employees waiting for their afternoon caffeine fix. Women in skirt suits and sneakers are lunching on the front steps of the federal trust building while tourists wander in search of Union Square. Now I’m in Manhattan. It won’t feel like San Francisco again until I hop the bus after work and land outside my apartment surrounded by chilly damp fog.