I once made and sold jewelry on the streets of San Francisco. Sometimes I'd sell by Fisherman's Wharf, other times in the courtyard of the Embarcadero Center downtown. Quite a tidy profit was made, especially during a short period when I found myself ahead of the curve of a monstrous puka-shell craze. I blew the money on everything but food.
That was a long time ago.
On a trip I made last week, things were different. My wife and I spent a week in the city, and a too-short two days in the Napa region. Here are highlights and impressions, reprinted not for nostalgia's sake, but to hopefully serve as some sort of vague suggestion list of things to do, where to stay, and places to eat - just on the chance you might be planning a trip to San Francisco sometime soon. Plus there are ideas to be grasped from the west coast that could improve Miami's food environment, so I'll be posting things that relate to the culinary scene out there the rest of the week.
San Francisco For $89 a Night
That's the deal we got at Crescent Hotel, with a central location right off Union Square. It's a clean and pretty boutique hotel, with an incredibly friendly and helpful front desk staff. Breakfast is included in the price, plus there's a cool, happening bar/lounge on the second floor with live music on weekends. If you don't want to spend hundreds a night during your stay, then Crescent is your place.
Best Place to Get the Crabs
That would be The Crab House at Pier 39 (The Embarcadero, San Francisco; 415-434-2722) on Fisherman's Wharf. Normally you want to avoid this touristy area, but when it comes to eating Dungeness crabs, there is no cooler place to be. The antique white tile walls are reminiscent of the classic Grand Central Oyster Bar - The Crab House is working class chic, and bustling with workers carrying large trays and diners digging into the shells with abandon. Executive chef/partner Andrea Froncillo hails from Naples and is adept at doing more than just steaming crabs (like, for instance, turning those crabs into a delectable chowder). The service here is friendly and sharp, and the scene is one of carefree vacationers having a damn good time. Bonus: Best bloody mary I've had in quite some time.
Tasty Salted Pig Parts
That's the slogan of Boccalone in the Ferry Building Marketplace. The "artisan salumi hand made in small batches with pasture-raised heritage-breed pork" sure makes for a good sandwich. But it's also worth stopping here just to purchase a T-shirt emblazoned with "Tasty Salted Pig Parts". What better gift to bring back to a pork-obsessed foodie?
Michael Recchiuti started handcrafting artisan chocolates in 1997, and in a city chock full of boutique chocolatiers, Recchiuti's ginger heart (dark chocolate ganache with fresh ginger); cardamom nougat; burnt caramel; and caramel flecked with French fleur de sel were the most outrageously tasty.
Don't Rent a Car
Get a San Francisco CityPass instead. Public transportation covers the whole city and runs effectively at all hours. No traffic hassles, no parking hassles, no hassles at all - just hop on and off cable cars, street cars, buses, BART, etc.
Best Chinatown Restaurant
Jonathan Kauffman, veteran restaurant reviewer of SF Weekly, our sister paper, and SFoodie, our brother blog, graciously responded to my request for dining suggestions with a detailed list of all sorts of interesting places. He even gave us a pick of Szechuan, Cantonese, or Shanghai restaurants in Chinatown. We window-shopped all three and chose Bund Shangai (640 Jackson St.; 415-982-0618), which was a fantastic choice - one of the best meals we had in the city. Great XLB dumplings, great noodle soup, even noteworthy sauteed greens.
Tomorrow: Part two, with a look at The Stinking Rose, Il Cane Rosso, and Cotogna, among other spots.