Greetings, friends! I realize I've been extremely lax with updating the blog over the past few months, but things truly have been incredibly busy. It's not a good excuse, but it's the plain truth; there just hasn't been any time to kickback and draft a
good blog entry.
Despite the hectic schedule, I did find time to travel out to my 'ole stomping grounds - San Francisco. Thanks to a conference that Liz had to present at, she offered me the opporutinity to travel with her out to the City by the Bay. Free room & board? Free airfare? I was in!
We arrived into San Francisco early in the afternoon on Saturday, and after a short ride on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), we found ourselves smack-dab in the heart of the city - at the intersection of Market and 3rd Street. The conference was being hosted across several hotels; our hotel was phenomenal on so many levels... the rooms were nice, clean, quiet, and featured real balconies that you could sit comfortably on. It was centrally located - we were in the Union Square neighborhood, which is almost in the middle of everything.
After unpacking, we headed out to the infamous pier/wharf area.
The weather was nice; much nicer than I recall it being when I was working in San Francisco... it was a tad windy on Saturday, which is normal, but it was sunny and warm. We walked along the pier, passing huge docks and watching the various ships and barges navigate their way around the bay.
After walking for a bit, we sat down for a quick beverage at the Pier 23 bar and restaurant. They offered outdoor seating, so we snagged a few seats and enjoyed the views.
For those not familiar with the area, the piers are all numbered. We started at Pier #1, which is located at the end of Market Street. The piers run north and south along Embarcadero Street; there are actually two "Pier 1", two "Pier 2" and so on (one north of Market, one south of Market). We were walking north toward the infamous Fisherman's Wharf (Pier 39). For reference, AT&T park (the ballpark that's home to the San Francisco Giants) is south of Market, at around Pier #40.
After enjoying the fine beverage and the views, we continued walking north along the bay. We reached a point where we could easily see Alcatraz island. Thanks to the clear skies, it was easy to see. A sailboat photobombed my picture, but it still turned out OK...
We kept walking toward Pier 39, which is home to several interesting attractions; primarily the large packs of sea lions that feed and sun on small floating docks, and the Fisherman's Wharf food court/market place.
Here are a bunch of the sea lions, hanging out and enjoying the nice weather:
Our stomachs were starting to rumble, and with the smell of freshly cooked and steamed seafood wafting through the air, we decided to head over to the food court/market area.
There were quite literally dozens of options for places to eat, and each offered live, fresh lobster, crab, mussels, and plenty of other tasty seafood. We settled on a vendor and browsed our options... lobster?
Or Dungeness Crab?
We ultimately decided to go with the crab. We picked-out a crab, the monger steamed it and cracked the shells, and we found a little perch to stand at and enjoy the awesome crab. We also had some fried calamari, which was excellent.
Bellies full, we walked up Hyde Street. Hyde Street is one of the steepest hills in San Francisco - it averages a 31% incline grade; the mid-point of Hyde Street is where the infamous Lombard Street begins (Lombard is the windy road that's often featured in movies).
The next day, I woke-up and went for a run. Liz was presenting at the conference and would be gone all day, so I had to fend for myself. I decided to run the same route that we walked the night before; it was about 5-miles round-trip. The un-fun part? Running up Hyde Street... here's the view from near the bottom:
And near the top; it's a little less steep near the top, but you can still appreciate the grade:
Truth be told, I didn't run all the way up Hyde; I simply couldn't. I stopped a few times and snapped pictures, let my legs and heart recover, and then chugged my way on through.
After a well-deserved shower, I hit the streets, looking for some breakfast. I found a great little cafe called "Little Griddle" and ordered the "Bits & Pieces" scrambler. It featured maple smoked bacon chicken sausage, crimini mushrooms, sliced yellow onions, diced stake tomatoes, cheese, and a boatload of hashbrowns. It hit the spot after the run.
Nourished and content, I wandered around San Francisco, making my way down Hayes Street (great shopping and cafes), over to Market, down Market toward the Mission/Hayes neighborhood, where my old apartment was. I was truly shocked to see that it looked exactly the same as it did in 2001/2002 - paint color and all. Here it is:
Talk about a blast from the past.
From there, I swung into a small cafe for a brioche donut (filled with white chocolate macha) and a coffee. I took a break, surfed the internet, and enjoyed the awesome little courtyard.
I had a rather long walk back to the hotel; I had to cover about 3 miles by foot, and in doing so saw some interesting things. From tame to obscure:
Farmer's Market - looked nice; lots of good offerings.
Dog dressed as Superman:
Godzilla and a princess walking on the sidewalk (I followed them for about 1.5 miles).
And this store. Odd combinations anyone?
Man, if only Madison had a place where I could do my laundry while drinking espresso, eating some sausage, and enjoying an ice cream cone... I'd never leave!
For dinner that night, we decided to do some small plates at a really cool tavern called "Burritt Room & Tavern." It was close to the hotel, and came highly recommended. We wandered-in, ordered some phenomenal cocktails and browsed the menu. Our choices landed us on:
Charcuterie (duck prosciutto, traditional prosciutto, and salami, with grilled sourdough)
Chicken liver with shiitake mushrooms:
And some baked macaroni and cheese, of which I forgot to photograph because it wasn't quite as good as the first two plates. With two more cocktails, we received our check... $99 for three plates and four drinks! EEEEEEK - we definitely weren't in Madison...
On the way back to the hotel, I snapped a semi-cool photo of a cable car operating at night. The cable cars are awesome, but based on the mass quantity of calories I'd been consuming, walking was a better option.
Liz had the next day off, so we woke-up, worked out (another 5-mile run for me), and made our way over to Chinatown for some Dim Sum. Dim Sum is sort of like a buffet of chinese food, only you won't find stir-fry or fried rice. It's primarily finger food, and let me tell you, it's delicious.
Here we are in Chinatown:
I love those hanging lights; if you look closely in the background, you can see a banner that reads "Chinatown."
After passing by countless Dim Sum joints, none of which had any english signage, we decided to eat at "Great Eastern." Heck, if President Obama ate there just a few weeks prior, it had to be good, right?
Boy howdy, was it good. First round of Dim Sum included steamed pork buns, salt prawns, and some type of spiced pork.
Round two consisted of fried fish rolls (basically large, deep fried sushi roll):
Round three consisted of baked pork buns, mushrooms, and a few other items I'm forgetting about... it was all superb!
We had made plans to catch-up with some friends of Liz's from college. They live in Oakland, but had lived in San Francisco for a few years as well. We took the trolley car from Union Square over to Mission-Hayes district, where we met-up with them at a wonderful little coffee shop. From there, we wandered over to a huge park, and then did some browsing and shopping in the Mission-Hayes district. Lots of thrift stores and unique places.
One of the places we ventured into was called "Paxton and Gate" and it featured an ecclectic mix of goods - from taxidermy to gardening supplies and everything in between; there were so many neat things to inspect and ponder. I saw an awesome hanging garden idea in the back; I snapped a photo for future reference.
They took us to an old bar called "The Homestead" which was a super cool place. I believe they said it was built in the mid-1800s and has been a bar ever since then. It was such an awesome old bar. If I lived in San Francisco, this would be my hang-out...
After enjoying a few drinks with her friends, we headed back to the hotel, where we did some shopping at some great stores in the area. I swung into AG (Adriano Goldschmeid) and bought a pair of blue jeans. We also hit Macy's, Nordstroms, and a few other places. I miss good shopping places like this!
With the clock pointing at nearly 8:00pm, we ventured over to an amazing sushi place called "Sanraku." It was recommended by Liz's friends and wow - was it great.
Seaweed salad and edamame to begin with:
Followed by two rolls (dragon and 49er) and nigri (fatty tuna and mackerel):
The next day arrived, and Liz was committed to more conference stuff, so I (wait for it) went for a run, took a shower, and then walked to a Dotty's - a breakfast place that is infamous for its unique take on comfort breakfast dishes. Upon my arrival, there was a line out the door; I waited for about 35 minutes before beign seated at the bar area.
My options were many, but I decided to go with the "house made whiskey smoked fennel sausage scrambler, with spinach, mushrooms, and house cured cheddar cheese". It was accompanied by a plate of rosemary/sage homefries and a thick slice of house made jalapeno cheddar cornbread.
Phenomenal. Oh so superb. With not much else to do during the day, I ventured back to the little cafe that had the brioche donuts, grabbed a seat, and did some work via remote connection. After a few hours, my gut said, "Hey, why don't we eat again?"
I decided to walk over toward Mission Street, and along the way found a pizza place called "Little Star Pizza" - they were offering personal pizzas with a drink for $10. Sounded like a bargain, so I stopped-in.
At the recommendation of my server, I ordered a roasted egg plant with chicken, basil, and garlic pizza. I'm not sure what their idea of personal is, but when the pizza arrived, it was much larger than I had envisioned - I'd say it was at least a 12" pie...
The pizza was delicious, but I only ate 1.5 pieces, as I didn't want to stuff myself too much. To help settle my gut (and guilty conscience for eating so much) I wandered around the city some more and spied this odd little store; yes, that's a bare-breasted pattern on the fabrics... hmm.
On the way back, I stopped at Yerba Buena Park - a little oasis located in the middle of the city.
Liz had several receptions to attend after the conference that evening, so I joined her for some free grub and drinks at a few of the hotels. It was nice to meet her friends and colleagues; they almost all have their PhDs, though, so I didn't contribute much by way of intelligent dialouge. ;-) Nah, just kidding - I had a good time chatting with everyone.
The next morning, we decided to venture to the north end of the piers, grab breakfast, and then rent bikes so that we could ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. We took the cable car from the hotel to an infamous bar/restaurant called "Buena Vista."
Buena Vista is known for its Irish Coffee and for being one of the older establishments that's still in business in the city. I skipped the Irish Coffee, but did order an awesome crab and tomato omelette with sourdough toast.
We walked from Buena Vista to the bike rental place, picked-up our bikes, went through a hasty fitting, and then hit the trails toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
There were a few steep hills to climb, but thankfully the route was nearly 100% via trail, so there wasn't much (if any) automotive traffic to contend with. We stopped near the Presidio to snap a picture - you can see the bridge in the distance.
We also passed by some incredibly nice houses along the way... the houses in this neighborhood had an average price of $8.7-million, according to Zillow.com...
The houses were located right along the bay (there was water directly opposite of them), and very close to one of the cooler pieces of architecture I can recall seeing - the Palace of Fine Arts.
Apparently, the Palace has fallen on tough times because it's slowly sinking into the ground. They've closed it and have relocated most of the attractions to new locations. It's such a shame, because the place was absolutely gorgeous.
After the quick pitstop at the Palace, we continued on toward the Golden Gate. Here's a nice shot of the rental bike as we neared the bridge. Can you believe the weather? It was quite honestly 75-80F and sunny every single day.
We eventually wound our way up and across the bridge, where we stopped at a large park for a quick break, a drink of water, and to take-in the views of San Francisco. My photos didn't turn out as well for two reasons - one, the photos were facing into the sun, so the lighting was terrible; and, two, the bridge itself is 1.75-miles long and when you calculate in the distances for the park and greenspace around the bridge, the city photographed a lot like a speck on the horizon. So, no photos "from the otherside." Sorry.
We rode back into San Francisco, and as we did, I snapped this selfie photo.
With time left on our rentals, we decided to ride along the pier area, only this time we rode well into the south side of the piers - when we hit AT&T park, we stopped and turned around.
We returned the bikes and then walked back to the hotel, where we got ready to take the BART over to Oakland for a dinner with Liz's friends. After some quick calculating, I figured we rode nearly 22-miles on the rental bikes - not a bad ride! And, it would make the evening's dinner feel a little less heavy.
Once in Oakland, Liz's friends picked-us up from the BART station and drove us to a "park" as they called it. Imagine the slight bit of surprise when we arrived to a cemetery. Apparently it's quite the norm for people to hang out at the cemetery. I can see why - the place afforded gorgeous views of both Oakland and San Francisco, and it really was configured like a large park. There were huge areas of green space where people could picnic and enjoy the awesome weather.
While we were there, I snapped a few pictures of some of the cooler, more interesting mosoleums. Here's where the Ghiradelli family (yes, of the chocolate fame) rests:
And here's the mosoleum for Samuel Merritt - it's the square unit to the right in the photo below. He's a bit of an Oakland legend - he was a physisican for a number of years (in the early 1800s), the 13th mayor of Oakland, and he founded a very popular nursing college. He also built a large lake in the middle of the city.
The attention to detail on some of the mosoleums is phenomenal - look at the custom-made lock on the Merritt facility:
After spending some time at the Mountain View Cemetery, we headed into town for some Korean BBQ. I'd never had it before, so I was both excited and nervous... Imagine my relief when I learned it was primarily fried and/or grilled chicken.
Liz's friend Jonathan did all of the ordering for us - he knew his way around the place, so we put the steering wheel firmly in his hands. He kicked things off with a Korean lager called "OB." It came in a comically large bottle - there's a pitcher of water behind the bottle for reference...
For an appetizer, we had something called "cheese corn." It's exactly what it sounds like, only better. They take a cast iron hot place and load it up with fresh kernels of sweet corn, scallions, and peppers, then cover it in cheese and heat it to molten-hot temperatures. Everything sort of boils and binds and chars together to form an unbelievably delicious plate of goodness.
To help cleanse the pallete (and our arteries), a noodle salad was ordered next. It consisted of cold noodles with a pile of vegetables, hard boiled egg, and an awesome sauce that was both sweet and spicy. It was excellent!
For the main entrees, we ordered two versions of chicken. One was fried and featured an allspice flavor; the other was a super spicy grilled version. Both were beyond excellent. Everything was so fresh, flavorful, and delightful. I wish Madison had a Korean BBQ place.
The restaurant was a load of fun; they were playing cheesy 80s, 90s, and 00s pop music (quite loudly). The staff were fantastic - super helpful and friendly, and they even gave us a complimentary pot of soup (very similar to egg drop) and a corn-fritata-like dish. We spent a few hours there, yet the time seemed to fly by.
After a nightcap at a local pub, we headed back to San Francisco on the BART. I managed to fall asleep during the ride; I guess all that food induced a bit of a coma. Thankfully Liz was able to stay awake, or who knows where we would've ended-up.
Liz had a full conference day the following day; I went for a morning run, where I stopped by San Francisco's other famous bridge - the Bay Bridge - the snap this photo.
I spent the rest of the day taking it easy. I stayed primarily in the hotel lobby, where I did some work and did some work on a side project I'm doing for the Capital Brewery Bike Club (I set-up their website and manage some of the content for it. It's still rough, but it's a new site so that's to be expected).
As we had a super early flight the next morning (it departed SFO at 6:00am), we decided to take it easy on the final night in town. That 3:45am alarm clock would be buzzing far too soon... We decided to walk a block or so to a local microbrewery called "Thirsty Bear Brewing Company."
It's an interesting brewery concept because they serve Spanish-style tapas as their primary food option. We started off with some salmon tartare with pintxos (one-bite skewers):
The tartare was superb; so fresh and tasty. The pintxos were excellent as well - one featured a fig with spiced goat cheese; the other consisted of marinated manchego with membrillo (it's similar to a pear).
Up next was some grilled asparagus with Meyer lemon and some Setas Al Ajillo, which are mixed wild mushrooms, garlic, madeira, butter, and chili flakes. The asparagus was excellent; the setas were a tad too buttery for my liking, but still good.
And finally, because I'm a total pig, I decided to order a pulled pork flatbread. I was quite shocked when it was delivered, as it was much larger than I had anticipated, and it was more doughy than I thought it would be. But, it paired well with the brews we were enjoying...
We settled our tab ($109... gotta' love San Francisco!), and turned-in early. Before I knew it, the alarm clock was yelling at me to wake-up and head to the airport. After a short (and very easy) cab ride to SFO (the BART doesn't run before 5:00am), we were standing in line waiting to board the flight back to Wisconsin.
What a great trip. Perfect weather, great adventures, and just a fun experience. I got to try some new foods, meet some new people, and visit some old familiar places. Many thanks to Liz for the great trip - I really enjoyed it!