After a two-year absence from cross-border travel – we took the plunge and headed south for a business meeting and stayed the weekend in one of our favourite American cities. San Francisco, California is a great weekend spot for food lovers, sightseers and adventure seekers. It’s patio-perfect most of the year and the energy is chill…Stylish with little effort. Whichever way you turn and look theres something iconic…The Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Ghiradelli Chocolate and the smell of fresh sourdough. To us, it’s one of the most romantic cities in North America – but for lovers of life after a pandemic, it was the best place to recharge the spirit with friends.
STAY: We typically stay downtown near all the action but it was our travel mate’s first time in the Bay Area so it made sense to have one of the city’s biggest attractions outside the front door. We stayed at the Kimpton Hotel Alton, just steps away from the iconic Fisherman’s Wharf and LOVED IT. The property has undergone quite the makeover from what heard and we were very impressed with the friendly staff, spacious rooms and amenities. A small bodega tucked in between the front desk and elevators housed items you’d typically find in vending machines and branded hotel souvenirs (you can charge items to your room by visiting the front desk) – and our rooms came with a $5 credit each night to use on snacks, water and even beer! Each room had a record player and three records (you could also sign out more records from the front desk) and a large desk area. The water pressure in the shower was off the charts (we HATE spittle-like pressure showers when traveling) and leave your Dyson at home – the hair dryers here are legit. Would a million times recommend this property to first time and regular travellers. Casual chic boutique-style with a lot of attention to detail for under $200 USD per night.
EAT: San Francisco has always had a spot in our hearts for its culinary scene and since we were celebrating three birthdays while also seeking some much needed inspiration to take back to our clients after a two year absence from R&D trips. Penny Roma is the new restaurant from the folks that brought flour + water to life in the Mission area back in 2009…They’ve now taken over half the block and also added a pasta shop/wine bar cafe. Penny Roma in a beautiful modern space filled with plants and funky lighting and we couldn’t wait to enjoy the hand crafted pastas this restaurant group is known for. The standouts were the delicate agnolotti dal pin (stuffed with beef and pork) and Spring lamb with artichokes and anchovy pangrattato. Up a block and around the corner is San Ho Wan, a casual Korean eatery that completely dazzled us from start to finish. From the delicate banchan we were presented with the moment we sat down to the pre-heated grills the meat was served on once it arrived table side, the attention to detail here was off the charts. The minimalism and elegance of this spot was simply brain candy and every morsel we consumed was perfection. We sat at the bar here to watch pros man the BBQ stove (they grill over solid lychee wood charcoal)…Grilled meats constantly being basted by a sweet marinade created the glistening char (we ordered the prime rib cap and double cut galbi) and we also indulged in Galbi Mandu (griddled beef dumplings) and Soondae Pajeon (blood sausage and green onion pancake). Come here with an empty stomach (sadly, we didn’t and we regret it immensely). We loved the servers’ linen jackets and their attentive but never invasive service. Another fine touch – a basket to store coats, purses and personal items was presented upon arrival to our seats and once filled – was slid under our table to keep the tables and chairs clear of clutter.
Highly acclaimed Mister Jiu’s has taken Chinese cuisine to heights we’ve never experienced. In the heart of San Francisco’s world-renowned Chinatown (it’s the largest one outside of China) lies this high-end Michelin-starred restaurant by Chef Brandon Jew and if you’ve ever wondered what high end Chinese food is about – this is where you need to go. Super vegetable forward, the Spring menu highlights dishes like a citrus salad heart of palm, noyeaux and chrysanthemum and lightly sautéed pea tendrils with green garlic and preserved lemon. Vegetables still crisp and prepped with such care. The show-stopper of this dinner was the roasted Wolfe Ranch Quail stuffed with lap cheong, sticky rice, turnips and cashews. This beautiful little bird was glazed with char siu flavours and we marvelled at ever single bite. Stunning meal…We totally get what high-end Chinese food is now and loved every bite.
On our last night, we decided to splurge with the $100pp tasting menu at James Beard Award nominated NARI. Located in the Hotel Kabuki in Japantown from the moment you step inside this property your senses are completely taken over by florals, spice and everything nice. The 9-course extravaganza was an array of flavours and textures, vegetable forward and when meat was presented it was flavourful, tender and mouthwatering. The squid and pork jowl was a textural symphony (fatty, crispy pork jowls may be our new fave thing), the caramelized fish sauce cabbage was so simple and addictive and the gaeng bumbai aubergine (eggplant in bumbai curry) is haunting our thoughts days later. The main course gaeng massaman gae – lamb shank in massaman curry, blood orange and grilled scallion was rich, tender and spicy. The roti that accompanied this dish was perfect for sopping up the incredible sauce. The local lady in our group had the privilege of taking home leftovers (the servings were ample) and admittedly – jealous and day dreaming about the feast she’d be having for lunch the next day.
Honourable eats: Modern filipino cuisine was located in the lobby of the Alton Hotel at Restaurant ABACA. We enjoyed Sunday brunch with the tortang talong quiche (smoked eggplant) and truffle ensaymada and for hotel guests who wish to grab and go – there’s a coffee and pastry counter open from 7am-10am. We also dined at Michelin-starred The Progress by State Bird Provisions – the burrata and fried butter beans with strawberries and golden balsamic vinaigrette was delicious, as was the tempura artichokes with preserved lemon and parmesan. Vegetable forward for sure (we’re in California afterall) but the dishes were so flavourful we didn’t miss proteins at all. Our absolute favourite restaurant in San Francisco, La Ciccia is changing hands so we went for one last bowl of bottarga spaghetti and had zero regrets. On our last day, we enjoyed cocktails, charcuterie and truffle fries in The Lounge at The Ritz Carlton San Francisco before a pre-planned private wine tasting at the JCB Salon – and it was exactly what you’d expect a dining experience at the Ritz to be…Perfect. Skip the wine tasting and stay in the lounge – people watching is a solid 10/10.
SHOP: We didn’t do any shopping on this trip but Union Square is legendary for high-end luxury like Cartier, Chanel and Mason Goyard. Westfield San Francisco Centre is at the end of the Powell Street Cable Car line so it’s an easy jaunt from the Wharf. Stop by the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market for fresh produce and locally made wares…You MUST brave the line for a porchetta sandwich at Roli Roti – the infamous rotisserie food truck. The line was long but fast…Our #1 must-visit spot in San Fran is the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown. Google it and good luck not getting addicted to the flat, fortune-less cookies…You’ll leave with bags of them and they hook you with the “gift with purchase” – a warm bag of fresh ones to enjoy while you explore the neighbourhood.
SEE: We booked a private 4 hour tour – (email firstname.lastname@example.org for details – we got hooked up!) and covered all the sights and scenery anyone would want to experience in San Francisco. Highlights included the Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Mason, Marina District, Presidio and Golden Gate Park, Painted Ladies (the row of houses from Full House!), Lombard Street (the most crooked in the world) and of course, Fisherman’s Wharf (yes, we did the tourist thing and got a Boudin clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl) how could we not? Our favourite stop was the Palace of Fine Arts – this spectacular structure was built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and restored by the community from 1964-1974. We could’ve spent hours here just soaking up the sun…This was a surprise stop that captured our hearts.