San Francisco June 2011

I arrived in the Bay Area last Friday for a mini-holiday with mixed feelings. I’d lived here for a few years in the late 1990s, and in many ways they were years unfulfilled, passing too quickly. Flying into SFO, the polluted/beautiful image of settling ponds neatly summed up many of my feelings.

That afternoon it was off to SFMOMA, mostly to see The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde. It didn’t disappoint, and the art museum made me wish for a better VAG. Vancouver would apparently rather waste colossal amounts of money on money-losing stadiums, and that’s one of the things that I find a draw about SF and NYC, and even Seattle: they seem quite a bit more cultured. They even have actual book stores with interesting books (see below).

The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde

Speaking of items lacking in Vancouver, decent vegan—or even vegetarian—fare is one of my longstanding beefs (pun intended, I suppose). Naam, how I loathe thee. So the first night it was off to Millennium. The food was really outstanding: probably better than what I remember from this restaurant circa 1999. Unfortunately, the service was not: I think the waiter was having an off night. I wish I’d saved the menu, but my main course was based on a fabulous pepper tempeh. Incredible. (Note to Vancouver restaurants: ever heard of tempeh? No, I didn’t think so. Seitan? Sigh.)

Two for two on the first day, planting a little nagging seed about moving back.

On Saturday morning, walked down to the farmer’s market at the Embarcadero, stopping at Noah’s on the way. Fabulous cherries. Wandered up to Fisherman’s Wharf (obligatory), then walked Lombard Street (ditto) and rode a streetcar (ditto again) back to the hotel—the Omni, which was excellent.

Second dinner was Greens, another occasional old haunt. Fabulous view, excellent service, and amazing food—with expert wine pairing, including a California Pinot Noir to die for, along with a main dish of ravioli. I went vegetarian as of this meal:

  • Andante Dairy Minuet; Mediterranean and lemon cucumbers with meyer lemon and mint; olives; Acme pain epi with Straus butter. Paired with Gruet Blanc de Noir Brut NV, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  • Green Gulch lettuces with Hidden Star Orchard cherries, slow roasted almonds, Point Reyes Original Blue and golden balsamic vinaigrette. With Punta Crena ‘Ca da Rena’ Pigato 2009, Liguria, Italy
  • Wild mushroom ravioli with porcini and chanterelle mushrooms, English peas, spring onions, herb butter and grana padano. With Stubbs Pinot Noir 2006, Marin County.

And what a view: that’s the Golden Gate Bridge you can just see in the background.

Greens Restaurant

It’s apparently more difficult to get a cab in San Francisco than it is in Vancouver, and it was a scramble to get to Davies Symphony Hall in time to see the San Francisco Symphony perform Beethoven’s Missa solemnis. I was not familiar with it; Wikipedia says “Unquestionably a great work, representing Beethoven at the height of his powers, it has notably failed to reach the popularity of many of the symphonies and sonatas.” Orchestra and full choir, very impressive. I am going to pick up a copy and listen.

San Francisco Symphony

Rented a car on Sunday: went in California style and picked up a red convertible! (2012 VW Eos—nice.)

VW Eos

(That’s not my picture; I didn’t take one, and found this on the interwebs.)

Headed over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands. My version of the obligatory photo:

Ate at Salsalito Taco Shop: had to have something Mexican on this trip, and the closer you get to the border the better it gets. Headed up to Muir Woods. Had not been here before; it’s more memorable than Big Basin, I think. Listened to part of an inspired environmental talk by a fellow who first visited in 1949, and thought about wants versus needs, and what we’ve done to the planet.

Muir Woods

By the time I got back to the city, the Pride Parade had ended; wandered about in the aftermath parties, which were pretty lively, and was struck by the lack of rioting. Drove out to The Haight and ate at Herbivore, which has added locations, including this one, since my days in the area. The food was so-so, after Millennium and Greens; but these guys could give cooking lessons to those at The Naam and The Foundation.

Up to Twin Peaks: typical SF day with strong winds and clouds/fog blowing in from the Pacific.

Twin Peaks

Then down through Golden Gate Park; wish I could have seen some more Picasso at the de Young. And out to the ocean. This was, for me, perhaps the central moment of my trip. I’d had a feeling throughout that I’d let my time here in the 90s slip through my fingers, that it was a dream unfulfilled. Part of it is the long, dreary years I spent at Columbus Group and especially Telus on my return to Vancouver. There’s an entrepreneurial spirit in California that you don’t see in the same way in Canada. Looking out at the open Pacific, I tasted that possibility again for a few minutes. I made a vow to myself that I will pursue this, and start on what will become a new course. My personal life has been in upheaval in the last couple of years, and that’s partly a legitimate excuse, but I had a strong feeling on that beach that I must keep moving; most importantly, that I can. I realized or remembered that one of my dreams is to have a small software shop of my own. (I wish I knew more about cooking; I’m sorely tempted to start a decent vegan restaurant in Vancouver.)

Visited a couple of other beaches near The Presidio and watched the sun set. Went back to Fisherman’s Wharf and had a drink, then spent quite a while finding a gas station before returning the car.

Monday, my last full day, I started with a trip to City Lights Books. Why, why, why doesn’t Vancouver have a decent book store? Chapters is so fucking dreadful with its mainstream remainder crap. I didn’t actually buy any books, but noted a few, one of which potentially fulfills a longstanding desire of mine to read about the history of ancient Egypt: The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson. Later went on a Red and White harbour tour, which was a lot of fun: the water was a little rough, particularly under the Golden Gate Bridge; windsurfers buzzed the boat. Sailed past Alcatraz, which has never really interested me.

Took a streetcar to The Castro to have a look around. Went into a wine shop but, incredibly perhaps, didn’t bring home a single bottle this trip. I’d like to go back and visit Napa and Sonoma. Last meal at Enjoy, which was surprisingly excellent: the décor and location are not much to talk about, but the food was outstanding, and all vegan.

And now I’m home to a Gastown that seems quaint, or a little fake, and even clean, compared to San Francisco. Not as alive, perhaps. I’m thinking. So right now, the trip feels a bit transformative. I just need to feel my hand on the rudder again and move forward.

One thought on “San Francisco June 2011

  1. Wow, sounds like an amazing trip, and very clarifying. This section, in particular sounds very powerful:

    I’d let my time here in the 90s slip through my fingers, that it was a dream unfulfilled… Looking out at the open Pacific, I tasted that possibility again for a few minutes. I made a vow to myself that I will pursue this, and start on what will become a new course.

    Awesome.

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