It has been years since I have traveled with a friend anywhere. I have visited some for sure. But that is not the same thing. I recall reading once in letters between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf that it was important they meet somewhere aside from each other’s homes–Paris or the like. For when two people are outside of their familiar environment, they can express their truest selves. They are vulnerable to change, spontaneity and adventure.
It is also for this reason, traveling with another can be scary, therefore I have avoided it with women for about six years (what if it all falls apart!). But it didn’t at all. No, this trip reminded me just how fun it is to explore with someone whose travel style is similar to mine. If I hadn’t consumed so many calories in wine, I may have gotten a six pack from all the laughing.
San Francisco is a marvelous city, in every sense of the word. The steep hills, the urban feel set to a bohemian pace, the bay, the hundreds of teeny tiny shops that line the diverse neighborhoods all work to create a wonderland for the curious. I have been several times, but this was the first time I was determined to ‘find’ San Francisco, for every other visit there was simply no time to meander.
Lucky for me (and you!), I did.
It all began with a bobble head. A huge, live head that wouldn’t stop moving and squirming in front of our seats in the plane. It wasn’t particularly notable, but it set the silly mood for the trip that followed, as we wiped away the tears and took a deep breath between laughs.
When we arrived to the Marina Inn Saturday afternoon, we were reminded of just how great a find it was. Both of us have stayed at this quaint, clean hotel before on separate occasions and agreed it was like shacking up at grammy’s for the weekend. At $30 night each, it really is too good to be true. After we lined up our shoes and hung our dresses, we took a long walk, knowing we were going to have a total eat-a-thon ahead of us. It was a gorgeous afternoon, and the marina district was the perfect brisk stroll.
Our first stop that evening was Heart–a hip, funky wine bar on the edge of the Mission. It was a long, thin room with high ceilings a lot of open space. Modern meets rustic. The walls were lined with wine bottles and art; the tables were rustic yet polished planks of wood. The floor remained cold concrete. The HVAC exposed. It was not tacky, but it was not interesting either. If it were circa 1995, this would be a progressive build out. Knowing they opened about a year ago, we were less than impressed by the lack of creativity. That’s the problem with being ‘cool’–you gotta keep up the image. That’s why I am not cool. I have a lot of black, brown and gray in my closet. I am not a total fashion loser, but I am no trend-setter. Just too much energy.
The wine list was probably the best I have ever seen with creative descriptions of each wine such as ‘El Maestro Sierra Amontillado: Maldon, almonds, ham, butterscotch and sex’ or ‘2007 Salmon Riesling: For the kids who ate rocks.’ However, they served up Meursault and bubbly Vouvray in mason jars. Okay fine, it was cute, sure. I actually even knew this before going. I was determined, however, to suppress my (fine… snobby) suspicion. But it turned out to be another aggravating detail that didn’t quite work. The glasses were thick; the bouquets obscured. It was a disappointment.The most noteworthy wine we had was an orange wine from the republic of Georgia. It was literally orange with maceration.
The bites they offered were decent, and one was particularly obscure: a pureed cauliflower panna cotta with tomatillo compote on top. It was unlike anything I have ever had. You expect ricotta on site, but then you taste it and a strange savory sensation occurs followed by nutty butter pecan ice cream on the finish. Even that, though, was a little overkill after a couple bites. We walked away spending more than we should have all things considered. Plus, we had to keep asking for bread. To which they would give us about one standard slice sliced even thinner into four equal parts. We were hungry and over it. We moved on to the next spot!
Terroir on Folsom (South of Market) was everything I hoped a wine bar with a name like that would be. It was dark, cozy, and laden with wood–wood floors, wood counters and wood crates filled the candlelit room, absorbing the beat of the dreamlike, electronic jazz fusion that hung in the air perfectly in place. The walls were lined with the most terroir-driven bottles, some empty, some full. Names like Rayas, Paolo Bea, Clape, Lopez and Raveneau were just a start… We watched as a man and a woman stared at each other, gazing affectionately, for nearly 32 painful minutes without saying a word. They couldn’t have been 5 feet from us. My friend and I were amazed (and weirded out). Nevertheless, it was amusing.
We had some geeky Dressner Follador Casa Coste Piane NV Prosecco that was unfined, unfiltered, stirred in its lees, left on its skins and fermented with its own yeasts. And while that was chilling, as sip of an ’02 Huet Vouvray that was absolutely singing! We proceeded to get blinded on all sorts of wines and work on our future hangover. They gave us some bread but had not much more than cheese for a meal.
Four glasses later and still really no substantial dinner, it was 11pm, and we were starving. We grabbed a spot at Nopa in, yep, Nopa. After perusing a menu that was peppered with quaint, inventive small plates that would have probably been outstanding, our near-belligerent selves ordered a burger with fries to, in our words, shut us the f*%@ up. Oh man, we thought we were hilarious. We also had a glass of Lebanese ’09 ‘Juene’ Musar (their table red) and an ’01 Jasmin Cote Rotie. The list was really creative and catered to the adventurous. The burger, at that point, inspired speechlessness. The scene was a little weird, but it was a Saturday night. What started out as paranoia (are those people starting at us??), turned out be, well, people staring at us. Two separate ambassadors from two different social groups actually came up to us and apologized for staring. Really. ‘Sorry if it seemed like we were staring. We were. But we don’t mean anything by it.’ That’s pretty much how it went down. Awkward.
Sunday was an afternoon party at Martine’s home in Marin County– a cute space that overlooks a marsh. Last year you could hear so many birds. This year was raining. Nonetheless, it was a charming affair–an opportunity to really get to know the winemakers a little better in a casual environment. I will always have a soft spot for Cyril Audoin–a Burgundian winemaker who has a 5th generation vineyard in Marsannay. He is 32, funny, youthfully cute (every other winemaker kept walking by him to ruffle his hair) and a total flirt. By Monday night, over Guinness, I heard all about his recent breakup. So ladies, if you have ever wanted the dream of running off with a French winemaker, you can find him on Facebook, I am sure.
That evening, my friend and I had a quiet dinner at a restaurant near our hotel: Alegrias, an old-fashioned Spanish restaurant that specializes in tapas and paellas. We insulted them by getting the Paelle Verduras, but we really needed some veggies at this point. Two refills of a bread basket later, we washed that, paella and some baked goat cheese down with a crisp, young Albarino. Here, we didn’t even need to ask for more carbs. He knew we were serious. It was perfect.
The next day was the actual Grand Tasting at the Presidio Golden Gate Club. They did it right. It was a gorgeous space that, on a clear day, has a perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The wines were sensational–truly another blog of their own. But since I did that last year, I will spare you the details and just cut to some of my favorites: Gonet-Medeville Rose Extra Brut 1er Cru, 08 Clos de la Briderie Clos de Volagre Montluis Sur Loire Blanc, 06 Herri Mina Irouleguy (seriously, for $12 and such a hard to find region), 08 Clos Uroulat/Charles Hours Jurancon Sec ‘Cuvee Marie’, 08 Brocard Les Clos Grand Cru Chablis, all the Rayas line (though the concentration of ’07 was evident and not as appealing to me as other vintages which have proceeded in the decade, like ’04, ’05 and ’06), Audoin’s ’07 Fix ‘Le Rozier’ and ’06 Marsannay Favieres, Rion’s ’08 Gevrey-Chambertin ‘Clos Prieur’, all of Clavelier’s Burgundies (so damn awesome), and last but not least, my favorite of the day: ’97 Diebolt-Vallois Blanc de Blancs Champagne–riveting.
We followed the tasting up with Thai at the highly recommended Thep Phanom in Lower Haight. I am quite certain it really was some of the best Thai I have ever had. It didn’t matter that the wine list was mediocre. I had an $8 nondescript Mosel Riesling, a $5 salad and shared a $10 Panang Curry with Chicken. We were accompanied by 70s and 80s love ballad covers of Air Supply, Chicago and Diane Warwick. I mean, really…could you ask for more?
The night ended with Guinness and car bombs (of which I wussed out). Enough was enough. My body had reached its limit. I had finally found San Fran. And I realized what it took was a friend, a plan and a little cab fare.