Updated: Jan 6
Visiting a good friend for Friendsgiving and then on to the Big Island.
As I was staying near the location of the defunct Candlestick Park, I felt it important to pay homage to its successor, Oracle Park. As with all ballparks built in the last 20 years, it is surrounded by plaques and statues of all the team's great ballplayers, all of which are quite inartistic. In this case including one of a pitcher who I never heard of, with another, though, that is actually quite interesting. Though not so much due to the artistry of the sculptor, but the delivery of the subject.
As longtime readers are aware I enjoy viewing public art installations, especially statues. Along the Embarcadaro I came across the most unattractive public fountain I have ever seen. Vaillancourt Fountain is a spaghetti bowl of square tubes with an indeterminate green fluid issuing from each opening. Its precast aggregate concrete has not aged well since it was deposited on the side of Embarcadaro Plaza in 1971. In fact, the whole thing is so ugly that in 1987 Bono had no scruples about vandalizing it.
Nearby Levi's Plaza is a rather bucolic spread of grass and fountains in front of Levi Strauss & Co. headquarters. Levi's has a well-known connection to San Franciso: it being that the CEO can live and work in San Francisco, while making its eponymous jeans in India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and/or Indonesia (depending on child labor laws, government tax breaks, and environmental regulations).
A block northwest of Levi's Plaza Greenwich Street deadends into Telegraph Hill and the Greenwich Steps start. While they are less well-known than the Filbert Steps, they take a backseat to no steps, offering less foot traffic and good views. They both will take you to . . .
Coit Tower was built in 1933 with money provided by . . . someone named Coit. The base of the tower offers some nice, but obstructed views of San Francisco, with the 210-foot higher observation deck offering unobstructed 360-degree views. I passed on the observation deck as riding 20 floors in an elevator with 15 complete strangers has now completely lost its charm. I instead inspected the interior murals that depict life in California and then availed myself of the dated but still quite serviceable facilities.
I found the "Library" mural quite interesting. Commissioned by the US government it actually depicts one of its artists reaching for Das Kapital. It's not that I'm so upset, more so bewildered that nobody at the time was so upset.
Every city of a certain mass has a place like Fisherman's Wharf. In some cities, it is called Times Square, in others Navy Pier and still others Pike Place Market. It's a place where after traveling from the other side of the world, a visitor can then visit the most inauthentic part of a city and eat at an Olive Garden. While it does offer free "fire juggling" shows, I instead ducked into the Franciscan Crab House as it was getting near the AAR witching hour that is called Beer O'clock.
The San Francisco Ferry Building was completed in 1898 as a terminal to service all the bay ferries and much of the transcontinental railroads. It now serves as an upscale Fisherman's Wharf, offering tourists an acclaimed farmer's market, artisan street food, and meeting all their organic needs, to include: honey, bagels, donuts, mushrooms, olive oil, moisturizer, caviar, and of course sourdough batards. It may make for a good place to have a cup of organic coffee while waiting for . . . .
The ferry to Sausalito runs seven times a day and costs $14.00 there (and $14.00 back). If you have a Clipper card, it will only cost you $7.50 there (and $7.50 back). I have no idea why there is a $6.50 difference, except to try and screw unsuspecting tourists. Note: A Clipper card can be purchased for $3 inside the Ferry Building at a store called Bay Crossings and can be used on almost all mass transit in the bay area.
Sausalito, is a small town a few miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, which in Spanish means "little town filled with tourists." It is known for its views of San Francisco, seafood restaurants, houseboats, and for being even more liberal than San Francisco.
About a 15-minute walk north from the Sausalito ferry landing is the Bay Model. It is a working 1.5-acre model of the San Francisco Bay operated by the Army Corps of Engineers that simulates the bay's tidal conditions. Unfortunately, it was closed the day I visited.
It wasn't a total loss though as directly outside the front entrance was a device that I had not seen in well over 20 years, with many readers only reading about it in history books . . . a payphone! When I picked up the receiver, I couldn't believe my ear . . . a dial tone! I put in 50 cents and used the opportunity to call my host and thank him for a delicious Friendsgiving porchetta he had prepared a few days prior.
Lunch was taken at The Trident which was selected as it had the best views of SF and served cioppino. Cioppino is a tomato-based fish stew invented in San Franciso that I had previously tasted in Seattle. The view from the restaurant's back deck was excellent, though the cioppino was a little thin, lacking zip, and accompanied by a rather odd mix of reggae that included "Pass The Dutchie" (then again it was Northern California). It appears that other nearby restaurants may offer similar views and better cioppino.
An after-dinner drink was drunk at the Barrel House Tavern due to both its proximity and that a good friend who just happened to previously dine there, is primarily known for telling a disgustingly dirty joke that revolves around a barrel. Click here to listen to it.
The California Academy of Sciences in the verdant Golden Gate Park was visited to add a little culture to my visit. Everything from the planetarium, to the living roof to the rainforest filled with butterflies to an actual tidepool, was impressive. Not sure it was $40 impressive, but then again maybe I didn't pay $40.
Reds Java House for an economical lunch and pleasant views of the Bay Bridge (despite the name, it's not a coffee house). I always thought hamburgers should be round, but this place serves them on sourdough bread that is more hoggie shaped (note: while the White Castle slider is square, nobody would confuse it with an actual hamburger). Possibly the best cheap eats in Baghdad by the Bay. Two double cheeseburgers, fries, and four beers for $50 - not bad for the third most expensive city in the US.
Molinari's Delicatessen is the epitome of the classic Italian delicatessen in that it's long and narrow, lined with black and white photos of dead Molinaris and worn wooden shelves featuring bottles of olive oil, tomato sauce, and gnocchi. It's a take a number and wait kind of place, with number holders being regaled with Frank Sinatra's greatest hits and "Guarda Come Dondelo" by the inimitable Edoardo Vianello. I went with the 'Molinari Special "Italian Combo"' with provolone on ciabatta, which was prepared by a deli-man with an Italian accent, which of course made it taste that much better. I then grabbed a Mole Cola¹ out of the refrigerator case and ate my delicious feast sitting outside on a table with a blue and white checked tablecloth while I watched the world go by - which mostly consisted of passersby and fellow diners looking at their cell phones.
Besides my host's Friendsgiving, my dinner at Kokkari was the best damn thing I ate during my stay. I knew I was on to something wonderful as soon as the hostess escorted me through the entire restaurant to my seat up against the back wall - like I was a mob boss. My friend mentioned that this was the best food in town and he had dined here at least 15 times. After I exclaimed "15 times!!" He offhandedly remarked, "haven't you ever ate [sic] at a restaurant 15 times?"
"Only if you count White Castles" I replied, but then quickly added, "though only after one in the morning."
Kokkari is an estiatorio that served me the full monty of Greek goodness: dolmathes, kalamari, and spanakotiropita followed by a fall off the bone Kokinisto me Manestra. The place is so sophisticated that it has two wine lists: the Regular one and the Reserve - the purpose of the Reserve wine list being to make you feel more fiscally responsible for ordering an $80 bottle of Tsantalis, Reserve, Rapsani '15 off the Regular one (it was excellent btw, with notes of raspberry and leather).
Ok, so you know what I just said about Kokkari? Well, that was complete horseshit. The best damn thing I ate during my stay in Frisco² was at Luce. All I can say is "Wow!" Everything from the Cavier Sunflower to the Octopus Lasagna to the Kampachi Crudo. All, of course, paired with the perfect wine. It was also quite lovely when the chef came out so we could discuss how I could best prepare the Farro Puls (the hard part being the carmelized onion gel). Truly unbelievable.
Prior to dinner at Luce, I visited a rather clubby oak-paneled establishment called the House of Shields that is located nearby on New Montgomery Street. Why is it called the House of Shields? I have no idea. I wanted to ask the bartender but was distracted by a photo of the 29th president that is prominently displayed on the wall, as while in office he may have actually died here. Either way, it may want to change its name to House of Old Fashioneds (with Michter's bourbon).
Prior to having an Old Fashioned at House of Shields, you may want to have a beer at Zeitgeist in the Mission. Why is it called Zeitgeist? . . . No matter, as it has an outdoor beer garden that is accessible 51 weeks a year. I had a Faction 1970 corn lager³. I had never had a corn lager, so I tried one for scientific purposes. It tastes like a cross between a Michelob Ultra and a hard seltzer, so if I were you I'd go with something else.
The day after you dine at Luce, a tiki bar may be in order. Not just any tiki bar, but a tiki-dive bar. So that's how Trad'r Sam was selected. It was a little early, but to prepare for my follow-on adventure on The Big Island a Mai Tai was ordered. My bartender John then gave me the bad news, he didn't make tiki drinks, but the tikitender who came in at 4:00 pm made incredible ones. When he saw the confused look on my face he explained that he convinced the owner to open the place four hours early every day and when I looked at the three other patrons at the bar I realized why . . . they were barflies. BTW: John makes a solid rum and Coke.
A few hours later you may want to attend Hobson's Choice in the Haight. It's a bar where you can order rum or nothing at all. There are three bowls of punch located behind the bar to choose from, I went with the House Punch, but if you went with the Gogo or Victorian Punch, I don't think you could go wrong. It wasn't as sweet as I thought it would be, which is a good thing. If, like Mrs. AAR, you don't like the idea of your rum being ladled out of a large punch bowl into a large Hurricane glass, then go with a Rumrita. The place is an AAR Must Eat.
And the day after that have a classic cocktail at Zam Zam, a block west on Haight Street. There's a whole backstory about the former owner, Bruno, and his penchant for kicking people out for the temerity of not ordering a Martini. Even though the current management is a little more accommodating, the Missus conformed, but the rebel in me ordered a Manhattan (up). Hey! It turns out that our bartender was dating the punchtender from Hobson's Choice. You know what they say . . . Love on Haight Street!
Keep 440 Castro in mind for (ultra) cheap drinks: $5 Margs, 2-4-1 cocktails, $3 beer, $3 well drinks, and undies night (9 pm - 2 am), depending on the day of the week.
San Francisco is covered by a first-class public transportation system of busses, trolleys, cable cars, and light rail called the Muni. Each time I completed my day I would take the "T Third Street" light rail back home to Bayshore.
The first time I was surprised by the lack of turnstiles and wondered how/why anyone paid. The honor system?! Ohne Scheiß, is this Europe? Each time I boarded, the cynical New Yorker in me, reluctantly and haltingly pressed the button on the app to purchase my $2.50 fare.
Living in the US, I have come to expect announcements on public transit to be in English and Spanish, but only in California do you get them in Chinese, Tagalog and what I'm pretty sure was Esperanto ("bonvolu porti maskon dum sur la buso").
Another thing about SF, is nobody (and I mean nobody . . . but me) crosses against the light. I tried to in order to catch a soon-to-depart Muni, but an old crazy street person who was doing a frenetic version of tai chi warned me not to or "you'll be hit by a crazy driver and not go to heaven unless you believe in Jesus Christ." He also warned me about some oil that was on the street - which was quite helpful.
Visitors to the 415 don't generally stay in the Bayshore/Little Hollywood neighborhood, located in the southeasternmost corner of the city. I stayed here because of the interesting Spanish architecture, the eclectic mix of Chinese, African American, White, and Filipino residents, and that I was staying with a good friend who lives there.
I also spent a night at the Intercontinental San Francisco. Great location and impeccable service. Plus when you complete your 6+ course tasting menu at Luce (see above) a king bed and mind-blowing views from your 32nd-floor suite are just an elevator ride away.
Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details that while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.
¹ At the time of sale, I thought Mole Cola was an old-school Italian cola. I subsequently realized it was "formulated" in 2012, possibly so it could be purchased by gullible Austrian-Americans in order to make their Italian combo feel more authentic.
² When you are in San Francisco never say the word "Frisco." First of all, because there is a city in Texas called Frisco. But more importantly, it marks you as a tourist, and even worse, a tourist who just doesn't care enough to know better. It's much like, but actually worse than, pronouncing New Orleans as "new or-leans" (or worse yet "nawlins"). As Melle Mel would implore "Don't, don't do it"
³ Corn lager has pre-Incan origins. For most types of corn beer, the amount of corn used is limited to 30% of the total grain mix. Otherwise, too much corn can create cider-like flavors or risk producing a hazy-looking beer with less clarity. It's important to note that corn (and corn syrup) is used as an ingredient in North American lagers to create a very light body.