Archives for posts with tag: san francisco

SoloFriday

There’s something to be said for a solo Friday as a woman in San Francisco.

Alack and alas, I am inherently a social creature, and nothing is more calming than a Friday night in a French cafe, overlooking Washington Square Park. At the corner of startup and ’69, the sun lingers lazily (as it so cliched-ly does) over the pulsating limbs of Monterey Pines, and the sun sets behind chilly tourists and bustling locals as they move to their meal, their mistress, or their next martini. A golden glow fitted by the fog settles over North Beach, and the sea-birthed wind sweeps across the parked Teslas and Vespas that cross continents and generations of dreamers and schemers. An unexpectedly calm evening and chilly wind places me gingerly in a corner booth, a drink for one, a moment for me. Acoustic semi-francophone music brings a smile to my lips and a mischievous glance to my eye.

I’m flying solo and decently attractive – a near-30 blue-eyed firecracker with an expressive face and a ready laugh, but not turning any heads. I’m seated near the window, placed at the front of a half filled restaurant, in front of passing crowds. My glass of red sits lazily beside my iPad, as I struggle with the non-touch and sound, getting used to the fact that I am typing on glass and nothing else.

They seat another woman next to me – younger, more pulled together than I. Whereas I enjoy my bright blue Adidas (complimented by the waitress, I must add), pants normally relegated to lazy Sundays and sick days, with hair hastily twisted into something that resembles a style, she is perfect. On-trend chambray, delicate blush and perfectly tousled hair. She sits facing the window while I position myself sideways (I tell myself that facing out seems intimate, voyeuristic, confrontational, but really I just hadn’t thought of sitting forwards.)

The staff from the next-door haberdashery come outside for a smoke, styled and coiffed in just-so trousers and rascally grins. I think of my fine lines and an extra ten pounds. My also-solo companion’s makeup is perfect. I worry about ragged cuticles, and being the weird girl typing in the corner of the restaurant. An accordion comes over the stereo and I think of Amelie and Creme brûlée and studying in France and being 19. The waitress smiles at me across the room.

It could be 1920, or 1950, or 2030, depending on the technology and how often people look at their phones. San Francisco whirs around me, and I drink my wine. And write my story. And sink into stillness, and peace, and nostalgia. Creativity comes from melancholy, from thoughtfulness. And I sit alone on a Friday night, adoring the window pane laced twinkly lights and comrade-in-solo.

Unfortunately, she’s brisk with the waitress, to the point of rude and abrupt, and I look down at my virtual Vanity Fair and drown myself in Wolcott and Fanfair. After paying the bill and downing her glass of Shiraz, she leaves, perfectly belted trench coat flapping in the wind as she urgently strides north.

I order another glass. The sky is on fire.

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The weekends I love living in SF the most are the laziest ones. Other busy weekends, when you can’t find a parking spot / wait 45 minutes for a donut / get ignored by a salesperson / attempt to look hip at a party you’re way to old at (heard it from a friend) / navigate the treachery that is the maze into Oakland, the “charms” of San Francisco are lost on me. One look at my monthly rent, and I wonder why I haven’t split for the ‘burbs or East Bay yet.

This weekend was without agenda, and as a result showcased everything wonderful about living in this city, including a concert, a culinary adventure, and a lazy sunday with a climb. Also was tranquil, and calm, and lovely. Until I got stuck behind a Segway Tour.

Fun fact: every time I see a Segway Tour here in SF, I nearly scream at them. Perched on their awkward chariots, the grampa-helmet-wearing participant peer down on us makeup-free masses with amusement. Avec bright neon reflective vests and steely visages, these groups invade the various side streets with cocky swagger cum sheer boredom. They point, as if we could not possibly see them pointing, as they are on segways. Look, Mom, a hipster who probably had one too many cocktails at Romolo last night, as this gaggle of not-so-street-legal motorized contraptions block an entire lane of traffic on Stockton with, hemled by tourists without their sea legs stretching to take a picture of Coit Tower with iPads.

Now before you scream at me for being a tourist snob, I’m going to metaphorically stop you right there. Let me get this straight: I love tourists, of all shapes and sizes, and I hate the tourist vs. traveler debate. One of my favorite parts of living in North Beach is being approached by anyone who needs a tip, or directions. I proudly point them on their way, suggest a good watering hole and provide a smiling face. I know that that interaction could make their day, or at least make them feel slightly more comfortable in a strange place. I take hosting VERY seriously, as a Calgarian who firmly believes in the white hat, and it is an absolute pleasure to help a stranger get to know the city that I love.

The damn Segways, on the other hand, completely remove said traveler from their surroundings. Ta-nehisi Coates posits an “asshole rule” in the Atlantic: a person who demands that all social interaction happen on their terms. Since a segway is not a car, nor a bicycle, nor a form of walking, a group of them occupies a vehicular role and takes up an entire lane, while each individual rider demands the freedom and slow speed of walking. As a result, these groups are not walking tours, nor bus tours (both forms of tourism I am perfectly OK with) and instead slowly creep around North Beach, causing congestion and general grumpiness in me (and remember, it’s all about me).

If only that group could disembark, partake in one of San Francisco’s excellent City Guides walking tours with the hills beneath their feet (feel the burn!). Heck, I would even be, for some ungodly reason, more OK with Riding the Ducks, a semiaquatic, hopped-up bus tour that  heeds both nautical and vehicular parameters (also, have you SEEN them jammin’ on that tour? I’m this close to taking it myself fo funzies. Also, kazoos.)

I don’t like to judge other folks’ travel preferences, really I don’t. But when I get stuck behind one of these tours, or get cut off by them when I’m in a cross walk near Washington Square Park, it takes every ounce of my being to not scream “DID YOU KNOW THAT SAN FRANCISCO IS THE MOST WALKABLE CITY IN THE WORLD?”. I want to shake them, make them look around, take them for a beer and show them the best places to explore.

But then I snap out of it, and continue on my Saturday.

I like food, a statement which should come as no surprise to the 20 people who read this blog. Having dealt with body issues and insecurities when I was younger, moving to San Francisco made me abandon my obsessions and restrictions; food, and the various industries orbiting around it, is king in this town.

One dining aspect I most respect about San Francisco is the lack of pretension. Only in SF can you get a stellar, well-prepared meal made from locally sourced ingredients for under ten bucks on your lunchbreak. Good food is a default in the city by the Bay, and I’ve come to take for granted just how creative, ambitious, and downright freaking crazy food professionals are in the town.

That being said, it isn’t always gastric nirvana in jeans: the money that trails the tech industry in this town, not unlike a whiff of My First Cologne after you pass a teenager on the street, brings with it the very worst (to me) in dining. I’m talking puffed up menus, $20 “bar nibbles”, drinks that cost more than parking, assholes who insist on telling you why a shiraz with the wild rainbow trout JUST WON’T DO. Specifically, I’m thinking of the vast experience chasm I experienced between Dixie in the Presidio and Mission Chinese Food in, well, the Mission.

Let me start by saying that YES, I know I’m late to the praising Mission Chinese bandwagon. I know it’s old hat, and the hipsters have new chefs to gastronomically idol-worship, but I don’t give a shit. It was damn freaking good, every moment. We endured a thirty minute wait (super short, so I’ve been told) and from the moment we walked in the door and our nostrils were assaulted by the capsaicin hanging foggily in the air, I knew I was home. No need for a faux-foodie review on this one: it was spicy, inventive, had a point of view, was delicious, and was seriously well priced. Ben and I left with enough leftovers for 2 dinners, all for $50 or so. With beer. That’s a good deal.

Part of the reason we fell so heartily for MCF and have proceeded to order delivery from them numerous times since is how it’s all about the food and not so much about how the restaurant wants you to perceive the food. Yes, the Kung Pow Pastrami was a bit of a mind fuck, but who cares? It rocked! While I didn’t adore all of the dishes, I knew what the the chef wanted to say, and I appreciated that: I like when I can tell that a real live human has crafted a menu.

So rewind back two weeks beforehand. It was a foggy, misty San Francisco Saturday, and Ben and I were struggling to find a place to eat. Having no reservations, I consulted my go-to source that makes me look more “with it” than I am and found Dixie in the Presidio. Hmmm, I thought, I like soul food, the pedigree of the chef is impressive, hey there, they just opened and we should support local businesses! Having scored a seating in an hour, we got ready, called an UberX (BEST THING SINCE CREATION, if you ask me), and made our way out into the mist.

My business is schmoozing and I went to a pretty fancy school, so normally I don’t get uncomfortable in fancy situations (you should see me rock a dinner party) but I tightened up the second I walked in the lobby area. There was something, something I couldn’t describe or point out, something that made me think “shit, they’re going to find out we’re frauds”. What I mean to say is that I felt like the other-side-of-the-tracks significant other meeting the country club parents for the first time: out of place but trying really hard to pick the right fork. The lighting was low, the decoration was modern lodge chic-ish (or was it? I really felt I couldn’t stare for too long), and the clientele was… how do I put this…. not of my social status?

I guess what bothered me the most is not the fanciness (I’ve had the pleasure of being treated to insanely fancy meals that were comfortable and laughter filled), what bothered me was the insistence on making comfort food seem fancy, that there was some inside joke I didn’t know about.

Thing is, when we were laboring over our choices on the menu, the couple sitting next to us, an impeccably dressed older gentleman from Brussels and his much younger (and gorgeous) companion, ordered the tasting menu. I must reiterate, I’m not hating on the structure here, I’ve dropped at least a third of a month’s rent on a tasting menu and ate Kraft Dinner to make up for it. The elements didn’t irk me: it didn’t bug me when they waiter overheard the man’s french accent and did his best to converse in his native tongue. I thought nothing of it when they brought out a bottle of St. Emilion that sat firmly in the two hundred dollar range, and the gentleman remarked on what a bargain it was. It wasn’t an issue that the service seemed eager but uneven.

I was flabbergasted, however, when they brought out the first course for the couple next to us: a hush puppy covered in caviar. There, the delectable hush puppy, the very same hush puppy that a moment before we’d enjoyed as an appetizer, sat forlornly on a plate, adorned with a pile of inky eggs, not unlike a British bearskin hat. The couple raved over the dish and proceeded to dig in.

What bothered me, what made me absolutely wish we’d stuck to our favorite pizza joint, or taco place, or Indian Curry Pub, was that there wasn’t anything inventive on that plate that I could see, only wealth heaped upon a humble dish. Now, I didn’t try the dish mind you, and I’m no caviar aficionado, but I cannot imagine that the little fish eggs on top of that puppy actually elevated it to fine dining.

And maybe that was my problem: I don’t eat at “fine” establishments often. Maybe I’m not the target audience for such a dish, or an establishment like this – after all, I’m not a startup billionaire, descended from the Rockefellers or a member of MI6 (OR AM I?) Maybe my palate doesn’t understand the intricate flavors the caviar brings out in the hush puppy. Maybe I’m not meant to “get it”.

But then I remember back to wonderful meals/experiences I’ve had at stunning places – marveling at the details of a foot stool for your purse and perfect plating at Del Posto, saving up for three months for an eight course tasting menu that lasted until 2 AM at Babbo, insisting we try pounded beef heart and lamb tartare, and realizing I’d been pushed out of my comfort zone and loved it at Incanto, catching a rare non-busy day and experiencing the epicness that is the pasta at Flour and Water, washing down the peanut butter bacon burger and thai chile hotwings with a Rio Grande at 15 Romolo, the absolutely epic meal I ate after watching its creation at my hometown’s own Petite… restaurants that were welcoming and warm, no matter how expensive or not, chi-chi or not, for other people than me or not.

and let us not forget fish eggs used well, for all I could think about at Mission Chinese when we plunged our spoons into uni custard topped with roe, a perfect little cup of salt and brine and sweet and depth and acid and oh my god how is it possible that I love this dish as much as I do… how each deliberate component on that plate served a purpose and made every bite a weirdly wonderful trip down a memory lane that wasn’t mine. How nothing was wasted, nothing was showy, there was no “wink wink” or sleight of hands. So maybe I get it: all I could think of was THAT is how you fucking rock a fish egg.

And it was under $10, which is 1/7 the cost of the aforementioned Caviar Hush Puppy tasting menu.

Dear Mum,

You taught me…

strength and patience,

kindness and endurance,

wisdom and faith,

confidence and questioning,

humor and humility,

how to learn, and how to teach

how to be a great woman, and how to be an even better human,

that it’s OK to cry, and that it’s even better to kick ass and take names,

and that a cup of tea and a bath can heal everything

from a broken leg to a broken heart.

Dear Mummy, on your Birthday

thank you. If I can become half the woman you are, I’ll be head and shoulders above many.

Rock on, honey badger. I love you.

See?!? I MADE BREAD!

Look, let’s get one thing straight. I am a tried and true, born and blue Calgary carnivore, raised on Prime Rib and dreams. I had a vegetarian phase in high school that lasted six weeks, and then I abandoned it. The one thing I loved about going veggie, however? BREAD.

Hi, I’m Amy, and I’m a breadaholic.

Back in October, I learned how to bake the Sullivan Street Bakery recipe for No Knead Bread, and it changed me. All of a sudden, I wasn’t Amy who can’t make a cupcake with a gun to her head – I was a BAKER. For a holiday party in December, I made a batch, and delighted in every guest who exclaimed “oh my God, you made this?”.

That was, however, before my doctor suggested I may have a “gluten sensitivity“. I’m 27 and my body was rebelling –  my allergies had gone haywire, my weight was fluctuating despite regular trips to spin class, and frankly I was feeling pretty icky. She suggested I go a month without gluten to see if my body responded – well, that and a new ultra badass and sexy allergy medication (oh yea!). 

So there we have it – nearly halfway through my gluten-free experiment and so far, so good. I’ve been using 21habit to forces myself to commit to sticking with it – yes, I’m so cheap that a dollar a day motivates me. I also have great, healthy coworkers, and lots of places near me where I can grab a salad, and now I have to be very aware of what I mindlessly snack on (I’m hoping this focaccia-free foray proves fortuitous for my fanny – awkward alliteration FTW).

Which brings me to my final thought: Paxti’s Gluten Free Vegan Pizza is actually really freaking good. This, of course, comes from a bread loving meat eater who might (no judgements) be addicted to carb consumption and is current cold turkey. Still, I’m pressed I would even consider it a pie I maaaaaay nearly crave after too many manhattans.

Onwards!

The area around Union Square in San Francisco has been a sort of No Man’s Land to me, or at least was before we moved into our new offices there this week. Previously, I’d cross the threshold near the Gap, the cable cars, and the Ferrari theme store only to get off the 8X and hop on the Muni, or to bring in my broken MacBook to the Apple store, mewling like a stepped on cat because I couldn’t get my shift key to type.

Typically, my complicated relationship with this area of the city is as follows: I like to avoid it. Why, you may ask? Up until now, the only time I was able to go was after work and on weekends when everything is concentrated and magnified. Sidewalks are crowded with slow walkers (grrrr…. slow walkers….), sketchy folks nearly outnumber the wide-eyed out-of-towners, and high quality San Francisco restaurant fare hides between the reeds of chain restaurants, Walgreens, and stores containing purses worth more than my life insurance.

Problem is, Union Square contains some pockets of awesome: my wonderful dentist Dr. Serdar has an office overlooking the concrete park, high above the bustle with cleanings hastened by personal TVs playing 30 Rock reruns. I get my brows done (GIRL ALERT) at the Benefit brow bar, unless I can’t fathom the hour and a half long wait. The Burritt Room serves a kickass cocktail, and I really enjoy a zinfandel at Press Club, and Jasper’s Corner Tap Room has negronis on tap…

The jaded “local” (ooh, look at me, I’ve lived here three years, I know everything in this city so well) would rather turn her nose at the chain stores and crowds, but the pragmatist in me is excited to get to shop over lunch (hellloooooo Madewell, pleasure to make your acquaintance) and be able to pull together my errands without renting a Zipcar.

So as I walked in to work, as pricey designer shops send out their bouncers and a plump man in overalls hoses down the post-New Year remnants, I prepared myself for a new adventure – becoming familiar with an area I’ve always attempted to limit my time in.

I’m excited.

Walking around near our apartment the day after New Year’s Eve, I noticed more than just the occasional crusty upchuck on Stockton and bleary-eyed revelers catching cabs at 10 AM (sartorial note: the light of day does not forgive sequins). Most pressing, nay shocking to me was the shuttering of our go-to dim sum restaurant, Gold Mountain.

I’m no dim sum expert, but Gold Mountain had everything we looked for in a local place to eat in the morning. Often, Saturday or Sunday morning presented a challenge, namely that I crave food at that time and my better half does not. Despite my hankering for poached eggs and toast, the block and a half long line at Mama’s in North Beach seemed crazy to me (IT’S JUST BRUNCH I want to yell IT’S NOT WORTH WAITING  FOR THREE HOURS) and besides, he dislikes breakfast food anyways, so two and a half years ago we ventured forth to Chinatown for a solution.

Dim sum solved our breakfast/brunch problem: it’s not typical eggs-and-starch, it satisfies salt cravings, and it can be inexpensive (fun fact: my favorite dim sum dish growing up, according to my mother, was duck’s feet). This is how we happened upon Gold Mountain – although I love occasional trips to Yank Sing when family is in town, I’d much rather partake in cheap and cheerful bites off carts in Chinatown. Gold Mountain, on Broadway, was less busy than other large establishments but a  better environment than some of the hole-in-the-walls on Stockton. No matter what we ordered, we’d get out of there for $20ish for two, stuffed to the gills with Shiu Mai and Bao.

I guess you know you’ve lived in one area for long enough when you encounter a shuttered favorite with a sad sign in the window stating that their lease is up and you are genuinely surprised. There’s a twinge of sadness, an exclaimed expletive, and then a chuckle. It wasn’t because it was the best meal you’ve ever had, it wasn’t because they treated you well or recognized you when you came it: it’s because that’s where you went regularly, it was familiar and dependable and it’s where you went.

Walking around today, I see more papered storefronts and “closed effective immediately” signs. I guess this happens on the first of the month more often than I notice, but I’m seeing it more today. Out with the old…

This past month, the awesome staff at Anchor Steam toured us around their San Francisco brewery so I could take photos for a Drink Me Magazine profile. Joe showed us around, showing us the facility from every angle (even the hop room! A room! FULL OF HOPS!) and letting me run amok with my camera. The brewery tour is reserved out months in advance, so I must admit I felt a great amount of glee as I dodged past the tour and went behind the scenes.

It was a super foggy San Francisco day, and the staff were kind and hospitable as we did our best to not get underfoot. Overall, a fascinating perspective on a San Francisco institution, and a perfect excuse to have the Christmas Ale at 10 AM.

anchorsteam_3915

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Many thanks to Joe and his team for taking care of us.I’ll post some outtakes soon.

North Beach at twilight #ifreakinglovesanfrancisco

I was going to include some badass shot of the fog rolling in over North Beach, but I didn’t have one and I am way too comfy all bundled up at home, so this twilight shot of the church on Washington Square is just going to have to do.

My good friend Laura gives me a hard time about how often I mention I’m from Canada, and I have to admit it is a habit I’ve been trying consciously to combat – my effort of which you, oh fabulously loyal reader, are probably doubtful. I’ll probably go into my issues with Canadian identity in a later post, but suffice to say contains some inferiority complex, a cup of self-deprecating humor, and a dash of northern narcissism.

ANYHOO, the reason I mention this is as follows: tonight a)I’m so thankful to live in San Francisco and b) I’m even MORE thankful that I am Canadian. What, you ever-so-discerning reader may ask, links San Francisco to Canada in my mind? Well, other than nice people and government sponsored health care, I’ll tell you what…

… I LIKE THE COLD.

There. I said it. Big secret’s out. I like it better when it’s cold. Hell, I wrote about the weather in SF less than a month ago, but the current heat wave across the US and comments on a Gawker post reminded me again. Instead of 110 degree heat, 500% humidity, 1000 fold increase in swamp-butt in NYC, I would much rather endure the fog rolling in across Russian Hill, delightfully chilling my apartment to a perfect sleeping temperature. Yea, sure, we just finished up months of gray hell (of which you can read of, oh illustrious reader, above) and most folks in SF would sell their left kidney for a modicum of a “real summer”, but I still thank my lucky stars that I don’t need an industrial air conditioner just to fall asleep at night.

Besides, I look kinda cute in sweaters and not-so-cute in sweat. It’s the Canadian in me.

GIGANTES!

Some criticize fairweather fans. Some teams think that unless you’ve been rooting for the hometeam since you were old enough for an officially sanctioned onesie, you have no right to cheer for their team. Fans are insular, cultish in times, steeped in the lore of stats, team colors, and player personalities. Inquiring as to the draw of a sport to a hardcore obsessive and you may get no more than a snort and an eye roll – keeping your love of sport inaccessible makes it special to you, makes it specific to your personal upbringing and personal quirks.

You know what I love about SF Giants fans? During the playoffs I was wearing orange and black (I have a great deal of it) at a coffee shop to get in the spirit, and I had four strangers give me a high five, or breathlessly recount the previous evening’s pitching dynamics. When I nervously admitted that I’m a newbie in this city, and that – don’t hit me – that I know absolutely nothing about baseball, these dedicated fans insisted that they explain some nuance, or enlighten me as to how certain cleats can induce a minor fashion scandal.

The shot above was taken on Union after the Giants won the World Series. First baseball team I’ve ever rooted for, first world series I’ve ever watched, first time in a winning city. It was wonderful.

 

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