North America West Coast Part 1: San Francisco

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About time we had a non diving or non Italian holiday, isn’t it? With the excuse of a friend’s wedding in an island called Orcas, we planned a two weeks trip between San Francisco (where I actually worked remotely) and Vancouver, where @bmcboy has family.

The first few days were spent in sunny and warm San Fran. I did not have too much time to explore as I was stuck in the office, yet I absolutely loved even my working hours. Much more relaxed than a London office (so it felt like) and surely, the friendliness of the colleagues and the gorgeous weather helped a great deal. We rented a small apartment on Air BnB on Telegraph Hill and I walked downtown each morning, taking in the sun rising, the sea air and the interesting streets of the hilly city. 
During these few days, we managed to hit some of the places that are kind of cool at the moment, especially with the help of local foodies such as my colleague and fellow blogger Melissa of Serving Seconds.
Our first meal, jet lagged but hungry, was at Mamacita, trendy Mexican bar and restaurant in the Marina district. Lively atmosphere, good service and great food indeed, I loved my pulled pork soft tacos.

San Francisco
Mamacita tacos

In the same neighbourhood we also visited, a couple of nights later, another local spot, gastropub The Tipsy Pig. I really enjoyed my pulled pork and kimchi sliders (yes, I do like pork at the moment) but @bmcboy wasn’t so convinced by his chicken dish and unfortunately the place was full of very loud people with particularly high pitched voices. We left in a hurry. 

San Francisco
Lolinda rooftop view
In another up and coming area (the Mission) we spent two evenings. Fairly dodgy looking Mission st is the place of the moment. Media, cool people from the Silicon Valley are snapping up real estate and the prices are going up as well as loads of bars and restaurants opening up. To us, visitors from London, it felt a bit of a nasty place to walk around at night, with loads of freaks and drunk homeless people pretty much at every corner. 
Yet we did have a pre dinner drink at Lolinda, opened by local restaurant entrepreneur Adriano: while its food is supposed to be top quality Argentinian fare, we went straight up to the cool rooftop bar to enjoy an average mojito with a great view towards the north of San Francisco and its bay. 

We then walked across the next street up (Valencia) et voila’, the ambiance turned leafy and arty and much safer looking. Just a street away. Oh yes, that is San Francisco. 
On Valencia we had dinner with Serving Seconds and her husband and had a great night, enjoying Italian food at Locanda. I loved my Tagliolini Cacio and pepe and our starters (including zucchini fritters). A great, researched wine list and decent desserts completed our fun evening. I loved the Duran Duran’s 1987 Rome gig poster in the loo, by the way. 

S’mores at Luna Park

Our first taste of the Mission however had been a couple of nights earlier when we met my long time friend Nevada, first for a beer in artisan brewery el Porteno accompanied by freshly baked empanadas. This was followed by more food at Luna Park, a bar and food venue which was pretty good (including the mojito we had). We ordered S’more for dessert and not having any idea of what it was like, we discovered its origin from Nevada, always good to have a local at hand!

Our remaining evening in the bay area was a bizarre experience. We had been invited by a friend to meet in Berkeley, the university suburb 20 minutes away from the centre. He had booked his favourite restaurant in the area for a very early (for us at least) dinner (5.45pm, oh yes). Unfortunately we did not get to see what is supposed to be a pretty university town – we instead saw Spenger’s parking lot (which they even charge clients for) and Spenger’s dark and musty interior. 
Spenger’s is apparently an institution: it’s been opened for many decades (over a century in fact) and it’s a family run fish restaurant, and even became a landmark in 2001. Unfortunately, it seems they are stuck in a time warp. Everything is dated and has probably not been renovated in centuries too: dark carpet, dark wooden furniture. The menu is extensive and mainly fish based. Shame it is not even local fish (my swordfish came from Hawaii) nor sustainable (no information on source, methods etc). The food was fine, a bit greasy but pleasant. The service slow. At least we had our friend’s company but we were back in town by 8 and ended up visiting Castro district on one of those stunning vintage street cars that grace the streets of San Fran. 
Lunchtimes were a great experience too. A friend took me for an early lunch (11.30, it’s a pattern!) to one of the best dim sum places (Yank Sing) which didn’t disappoint; a colleague bought me lunch at Sushirito where they serve take away sushi in the shape of a burrito (or a burrito made with sushi rice and seaweed paper). Fun, filling and different for those London visitors!

We had a team lunch in the very bright and hot sunshine at Market Bar at the Ferry building; I had a seared Ahi nicoise which was delicious (with me failing to ask about its sustainability). 
San Francisco
Market Bar Nicoise

The Ferry building is home to a small but very interesting gourmet market: the stalls sell high quality, organic produce such as artisan cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery and breads from Acme, rated amongst the best bakeries in the USA. I tried the famous San Francisco sourdough, of course.

San Francisco
What about coffee and chocolate? Well, these deserve a separate post, as in the three destinations we visited, both items are seeing a renaissance in the artisan beans space.
More to follow. One noteworthy point is that in San Francisco there seems to be a great amount of interest and focus on recycling, eco efforts and organic food. Even the domestic terminal at the airport is energy efficient and all food sale points sell organic, free range meat with compostable crockery and the likes. Top marks!

It’s time now to leave the sunshine and face the rain.

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