Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The coldest winter I ever spent: Summer in San Francisco!

Well it has been a while hasn't it. I guess that means I've been working too much and not vacationing enough. I've finally put an end to that as vacation season is just heating up. Two weekends ago I traveled with the lovely Irina Zeylikovich to Grand Rapids for a whirlwind brewery tour and I must say, they certainly deserve the title of Beer City USA. In 36 hours we visited five separate brew-pubs and they were all pretty fantastic. They were: Harmony, Grand Rapids Brewing Co, Hopcat, Founder's and Brewery Vivant. I have to say my favorite was Brewery Vivant. They're housed in a converted cathedral which gives it a very monk-y feel when you walk in. We actually ended up sitting outside since it was such a beautiful day, but the building is gorgeous. Of course the most important part was the beer, which was also of course delicious. They have a great selection ranging from a classic, refreshing Farmhand - based on a beer French farmers would offer their field workers after a long day in the sun - to The Abyss which was a dark, rich stout that had been aged in whiskey barrels for a delicious woody finish. I ended up getting a growler of the Farmhand, if only to have a reminder to go back sometime. I almost forgot to mention the duck confit nachos which were incredible, but sinfully rich. We split them as an appetizer and they ended up being plenty to fill us both for lunch. If you find yourself on the west side of the state, I would highly recommend paying them a visit.

Now onto the real reason for this post: I'm in San Francisco! Irina got a grant to come out here for a conference of the Society of Scholarly Publishing and that was excuse enough to get me to spend a few of my hard-earned frequent flyer miles to come see her home, meet the rest of her family and all of her best friends from before grad school. We arrived yesterday morning and her friends Stephanie and Shelby picked us up from the airport and we all went out for lunch at a place called the Outerlands. It's essentially a trendy sandwich shop and damn, was it delicious! We got grilled ham and cheese on house-made bread and an open face bacon, egg and cheese sandwich with some celery and potato soup. It was all tasty, though I must say I had to reserve my effusiveness over the quality of the food, knowing what was coming later that night. As good as the sandwiches may have been, I knew they'd be nothing compared to the awesomeness of our dinner, but I'll get to that in a minute. After lunch, we took a couple hour nap, having woken up at 5 AM and knowing that dinner would be going until nearly midnight. It was a stroke of genius for Irina to work that into the itinerary as we both might have passed out in a 5 star restaurant without it. After the nap, we went to Palio d'Asti downtown for happy hour with a few of Irina's good friends and it was great to finally meet after hearing so much about them. I'm sure they felt much the same way since they seem to know as much about our relationship as I do. After a few drinks and plenty of old stories, we made our way towards our dinner venue:

Restaurant Gary Danko

This place came rather highly reviewed from the guy who taught me to appreciate a good meal (thanks Dad!) and it did not disappoint. We followed his suggestion of trying the tasting menu with the wine pairing and also picked out a unique five course meal so we could each try 10 different dishes.

The (signed!) tasting menu and wine pairings
The rest of the rather extensive menu
Off the a la carte menu, we went for the risotto with lobster and shrimp, roast Maine lobster, lemon pepper duck breast, roast loin of bison and the Louisiana butter cake. Nothing we had was anything short of delicious, and, recalling my rule from my dinner at Alinea, when I'm paying that much for a meal, you bet your ass I'm going to eat everything they put in front of me. I have to say I was surprised to find that my favorite course was the horseradish crusted salmon with dilled cucumbers. Considering I generally am not a huge fan of fish or pickles, that course knocked my socks off. The wine paired with that was my favorite of the evening as well. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of the food since they're all on Irina's phone and she's at her conference now, but they'll make it onto Facebook eventually. Take my word for it, everything looked as good as it tasted. I also have to give a special shout out to the dessert on the tasting menu. After my first bite of that salted caramel ice cream with bourbon sauce I couldn't stop myself from throwing my head back and wowing while grinning like a fool at how perfectly the sweetness and saltiness balanced and played off each other. It was quite possibly the best ice cream with sauce I've ever had. It's truly a shame that I was so stuffed at that point that I couldn't finish.

After dinner we walked down to the pier and around the block a couple times to help things settle and then headed back to her parents house for bed. Between the jetlag and the total foodie satisfaction, we slept like logs.

Today we woke up and had a nice breakfast of homemade honey-lemon-rosemary bread with cheese and cold cuts and then Irina showed me around a few of her favorite places in town. We started in Pacific Heights, one of the nicer neighborhoods, checking out multi-million dollar houses and mini-palaces. There are some damn impressive residences in this city, notably fantasy-filth writer Danielle Steele's house which looks like it was converted from a palatial art museum. Maybe there's something to this writing gig...

After grabbing some Peet's coffee down the hill from there, we got back in the car and headed for the Golden Gate bridge and the park that follows the beach near it. Apparently this week is the North American kiteboard racing championships. I'd never actually seen kiteboarding in action but imagine a combination of parasailing and wake boarding. Essentially you harness yourself to a giant kite, strap a stubby surfboard to your feet and race around a course using the kite for propulsion. It looks pretty nuts, but I'm also kind of curious to try it sometime. The racers were all setting up when we got to the beach and by the time we had walked to the bridge and back, they were well into the races. There must have been at least 50 of those guys out there racing, it was fun to see! Speaking of the bridge, I got a couple pretty good photos, especially considering I took them with my phone!

I love the panoramic photo feature on iPhones. If you look carefully you can spot
the Bay Bridge near the center of this photo

I really like this perspective of the bridge

Now that Irina's conference has started, I'm going to be doing a bit more exploring on my own for the next few days. I'll post again later when I inevitably find something cool, but in the meantime I'm going to read for a bit and maybe take a nap because I'm on vacation and I can do whatever the hell I want!