Asia, San Francisco

My most recent adventure took me back to the West Coast for five days in San Francisco, its cooler sibling, Oakland, and north up the coast to wine country for a wedding. I got to spend time with my old bestie from New York, a great friend from Tufts, and take part in a family celebration. I learned a few things about the city while the recurring Asian atmosphere provided dreamy thrills.

My first trip to SF in 2010 did not impress me too much which, I know, is a huge, glaringly provincial oversight. I cared more about seeing my best friend and less about where we were (I do remember some of the great things we ate).

This time I made more of an effort. Strategy: 1. Land 2. Squeeze my old friends 3. March them over to the best bakery in town, Tartine. In the heart of the Mission and right next to Dolores Park, this place is always busy and amazing.

I was in a hunger crisis so I ordered ten things in a state of delirium. It's a great way to experience Tartine. Of course everything: the orangey morning bun, the pain au chocolat, the brioche bread pudding, and the asparagus croque monsieur, was divine.

Sunset/Ocean Beach
A magical evening: dinner at Outerlands where the butter was so good we took home the uneaten portion in a to go box. Fantastic meal from butter onward thanks to the insider knowledge of our food critic host. Afterward we walked past the above ground train station over to Ocean Beach. We saw surfers on the street in full gear, we passed the neon lights of the last stop on the N. Judah line, and leaving civilization, we walked along the desperately dark beach. I couldn't tell where the sand ended and the water began.

In between eating different good things, I saw the de Young. Pretty cool museum set in the gorgeous Golden Gate Park. About the size of Central Park, but this park is like a red carpet to the Pacific Ocean. What the hell amazing. While there you'll find a Japanese tea garden, a Bison pond, a Botanical garden, the Renzo Piano designed super green California Academy of Sciences, with aquarium/planetarium combo, and a horseshoe pit. I wish we had an entire day to wander around.

I came explicitly for the textile collection, which is known to be very good. Disappointment! The entire collection was in storage.

Looking around the special exhibit "Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis" we saw some interesting things and of course the climax, Vermeer's sadly underwhelming Girl with the Pearl Earring. Vermeer is a great artist, but he was not included in the show, only his fame whore (I'm sure he did not intend this to be her future, poor thing). I decided then and there that I really have no patience for these blockbuster museum shows which tout their features like licentious women. The mobs just make it all so tawdry, crushing through mindlessly gaping. Why should this painting be so vaunted? Because of the movie starring Scarlet Johansson? I felt that all of the people enjoying their perfunctory glance at the painting were just checking it off their list of things to claim "seen." I guess I was too, but in a more cynical, or clinical, way. The experience left me with a bad taste, especially after watching people sneak photos with their iphones. Why? Stupid. Where are we, Chateau Marmont? I came across this article recently which in a way summarizes my complaints with these kinds of short attention span entertainment shows.

We did see some cool stuff such as:

Rubbings and stelae from Chichen Itza (featuring the Mayan ball game in which the loser is decapitated, see bottom left of the rubbing).

Peruvian feather tunic

Photorealist Robert Bechtle's "Four Palm Trees," 1969

The de Young is a great museum, even better I'm sure, when the textiles are out.

After our museum trip, I decided I didn't want to see any more art institutions, only the different neighborhoods of San Francisco.

Centered around a grand, but somewhat ugly concrete stupa, this is the oldest and largest Japanese community in America. Japantown is like an entire Asian city within a city. We had a lot of fun checking out Daiso, the Japanese dollar store, and the Japanese mall complete with arcade. We also learned that plastic bags are banned in SF and if you want one you have to pay. I loved it!

Stupa (Buddhist reliquary monument)

For caffeine: YakiniQ Cafe. Matcha latte, matcha shortbread, and onigiri. Good spot. There was also a British Japanese tea shop and cos play type clothing for sale in the same building. Atmospheric places.

My matcha latte

Books: Kinokuniya. We stuck around here for a long time. Lots of things to explore. I picked up a few fun things related to Japanese draping techniques and secret household tips.

Oldest and largest Chinatown outside of Asia. Just walking around here is thrilling. I found a small hand, carved from jade, in one of the shops. The lady working there said it was a protective charm.

We picked up some Chinese bakery treats for our adventure.

Fisherman's Wharf
Musée Mécanique, a crazy collection of mechanically operated arcade games and music boxes. 

North Beach
We walked all over from Chinatown to the Wharf to North Beach. We visited City Lights Bookstore, then watched an accordion band at Caffe Trieste (by the way the Africano is what to get). We stopped in Russian Hill where we actually met a Russian man who basically told us he couldn't speak English. Further up the hill I had an unexpected bloody nose. Out of nowhere another man came running over with an entire box of tissues. Bending down to me like a gentleman, he allowed me to take what I needed and then disappeared. In my blood loss induced delirium I thought I saw this tissue savior a few minutes later and yelled out a sincere thank you. I looked more closely and yelled "NOT YOU!" after I realized it was the wrong guy and therefore undeserving.  

I spotted this vertical veggie garden on my way to Samovar Tea Lounge, Sanchez Street. I wanted to revisit this tea place for the simple reason that it is incredibly good. Last time I was in town we went to the Yerba Buena spot but this location is closer to Tartine (convenient for last minute pastries to go). It was much more low key, which I appreciated, especially after several days of failed attempts to get into restaurants on my wish list. I learned: dinner reservations are a must in this city and two hour waits are standard for popular places, including bars!

At Samovar, I got the Japanese Tea Service with Ryokucha Green Tea. It's the most perfect kind of food: clean, healthy, interesting, kind of like a metaphor for the city itself. My tea service included a great variety of hearty salads alongside smoked salmon, a small bowl of soup, and the grassiest, greenest, most delightful tea I've had the pleasure of tasting. Another thing I learned in San Francisco, no one eats tofu or soybean products. It's practically anathema so don't even ask. Anyway, I adore this place and I'll be back a hundred more times.

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