City Spotlight: San Francisco

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After almost a week traveling in San Francisco, I must sing praises to the city. Here, there lives architectural charm, cultural density (without the population density of, say, New York), gastronomic delights and playgrounds of nature.

In this post, I’ll concentrate on activities I recommend in the city.

You can get around by foot, public transit, Uber and, for tourist pleasure, cable car. The San Francisco cable car bears the distinction of being the only one in the world that is operated manually. The conductor stands in the middle and works the gears by pushing and pulling a lever. The cars are open air and packed tight, with riders often standing at the car’s side edges.

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We took a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf. When we got dropped off, we spotted The Buena Vista Cafe and decided to have breakfast there. It’s an old-school, comfortable place with a tile floor and a bartender in crisp white with a black tie. I recommend the crab cakes topped with poached eggs and their signature Irish coffee.

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After breakfast, we wandered through the waterfront and made our way to Pier 39 to see the resident sea lions that lie on floating platforms. They make a lot of noise and love being lazy. Super cute.

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For a 360 view of SF, we walked to Coit Tower, which is full of Depression-era murals on the inside that were commissioned by the Works Progress Administration. If you want to take the elevator to the top for the view, there’s an $8 fee. It’s worth it on a clear day to get sweeping vistas of the city and the bay.

City Lights

If you like reading, a visit to City Lights is a must. Like many other college kids, I was enamored of the Beats as that age, and this store was founded by the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who, God bless him, is now 98. There’s a special Beat section upstairs. This store is a literary beacon for the city and well beyond. We bought a few books, of course.

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For lunch, we walked about a mile to Swan Oyster Depot. We were not expecting to stand in line for an hour and a half just to get into this tiny bar-top counter place, but it might be Anthony Bourdain’s fault; once we finally got inside, there was a featured quote from him, something to the effect of he’d die a happy man if he ate this last. We were actually a little disappointed because once we sat down and looked at the menu, the oysters and fish were mostly sourced from Vancouver, where we used to live. We were hoping for a more local selection, although they did have local versions of the oysters we knew so well in Vancouver, which we ordered. We also sampled the scallop sashimi with ponzu and Sriracha; absolute heaven.

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To round out our afternoon, we took an Uber to Amoeba Music, the world’s largest indie record store. This place is indeed big like a warehouse, and it has new and used LPs, CDs and DVDs, as well as a small stage for performances. We picked up a couple Grateful Dead CDs in honor of the concert we came to town for–more on that, and other SF highlights, soon.

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Baked Lingcod

Baked lingcod

Last weekend, I finally got around to visiting my neighborhood farmers’ market, where a blackboard at a fishmonger stand caught my eye. It listed salmon, halibut cheeks and lingcod. I chatted up the lady at the stand, who told me the fish was wild caught. Thinking of Vancouver, where we last lived, I went for lingcod. I’ve actually seen this fish swimming along the seaflor while I was diving off Vancouver.

I wanted a simple treatment for dinner, and I decided to bake the fish with butter and herbs, so I walked to our building’s outdoor herb garden and snipped some chives and lemon balm for garnish.

Ingredients:

1 lb. lingcod
6 pats of butter
chives and lemon balm, diced
paprika to taste

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.

In a Pyrex, place 3 pats of butter underneath the fish and 3 pats on top of the fish. Arrange the herbs on top, and add a sprinkling of paprika. Bake for about 20 min.

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Multigrain Risotto

Multigrain risotto

When we were living in Vancouver, we did our grocery shopping a few times at T&T, a Chinese supermarket. The fun of going to a store like that is the chance to try new things.

One of the finds we got one day was a bag of, if I recall correctly, 10-grain rice. I haven’t figured out how to cook it so it comes out clean and fluffy like regular rice, so I cook it like a porridge.

This past weekend, I made a successful risotto-like dish with it. I used a lot of butter, but you can stick to olive oil if you want to keep on the healthier side. The flavor comes from the parmesan. I garnished with chives for color and subtle herb flavor.

You can serve this as a main or a side dish to chicken or seafood.

Ingredients:

3 cups water
1 cup multigrain mix
olive oil to taste
2-3 tbsp. butter
salt to taste
grated parmesan to taste
chives, diced

Bring the water to a boil in a pot, then add the multigrain. Cover, drizzle in olive oil and sprinkle in salt, and let simmer, stirring occasionally. When the water is fully absorbed, if the grains are not yet cooked, keep adding water as needed. It will take at least 45 min. to cook.

When the grains are ready, stir in more olive oil and/or butter, plus more salt if you like. Stir in the parmesan, then garnish with chives.

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Coconut Alfredo Macaroni

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This is a new take on mac and cheese that I came up with the other evening. Coconut milk introduces an exotic element to the alfredo sauce, and the large macaroni noodles absorb the sauce well.

The sweet and slightly rich coconut milk melds with the juice of the chicken, plus a sprinkling of paprika and salt, and, of course, cheese gratings, for major umami.

I added the peas for color. And for veggies. Because you’ve got to eat your greens.

Ingredients:

1/2 package of macaroni
1 pack of chicken thighs, cut into small cubes
1 can of coconut milk
1/2 bag of peas
Parmesan, grated (desired amount)
Salt to taste
Paprika to taste

Bring water to a boil in a pot and cook the macaroni (about 10 min.). Drain and set aside.

In a large pan, cook the chicken in olive oil with the pan covered. When the chicken is cooked, stir in the coconut milk, salt and paprika. Continue cooking with the pan uncovered until the liquid reduces to the bottom of the pan, then stir in the peas, macaroni and cheese. Turn off heat, let sit for 5-10 min. for the flavor profile to settle, then serve.

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Pea Pesto Pappardelle

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This dish is wonderfully versatile. It’s simple enough for a weeknight, and it has elegance for a special meal. You can keep it light or add protein (I recommend chicken or steak strips). The yellow of the noodles and the green of the peas make for an attractive color combo.

The pesto I made for this dish isn’t traditional. I was feeling creative, and I decided to grind up peas, parmesan and olive oil together in the food processor. Once the pappardelle is cooked after boiling for 5-10 min., drizzle olive oil on the drained noodles in a pot or pan, then stir in the pea pesto.

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Pasta Shells with Chicken, Collard Greens and Cheese

Pasta shells with cheese

I love mixing cheese with pasta. The cheese gives pasta a big dose of umami if you use a lot (and I love cheese, so I do). This dish is a good balance of carbs, protein and fiber. The collard greens are full of nutritional goodness and are a pretty color contrast to the pasta shells.

Ingredients:

1/4 bag of pasta shells
2 chicken thighs, cut into cubes
1 Roma tomato, cut into cubes
1/2 bag of pre-cut collard greens
shredded aged white cheddar to taste

Bring water to a boil in a pot, and cook the pasta until al dente (about 10 min.). Drain and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, saute the chicken and tomato in a pan with olive oil until the chicken is cooked, then add the collard greens so it soaks up the juices. When the pasta is ready, mix it into the pan and stir in the cheddar. Shred a bit more cheese when you plate the dish if you want garnish.

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Hanabi Ramen

Ramen Hanabi

I took a stroll to the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, VA, this afternoon and stopped by Hanabi Ramen for lunch. I was greeted by a friendly host, who was also an attentive server. I asked him what he recommended, and he said the Tsukemen since it was a hot and humid summer day. I ordered mine with an extra egg, mushroom slices and tofu.

This was indeed a good choice for a hot day because Tsukemen is served with cold noodles separate from the broth, so that you can dip the noodles in the broth without the heat of the dish being concentrated.

The broth here is made with a blend of pork, fish and soy sauce, according to the menu. I could see little glistening fat globules in the broth, which is a good sign it’s been simmering away with all that pork goodness for a long time. The broth had a creamy look to it; I’m not sure what made it look like that, but I did appreciate the rich flavor. There were cubes of tender pork hidden in the broth; a nice surprise when I dipped the spoon in.

I chatted a bit with the chef, who said he sources his noodles from the West Coast. The noodles were somewhat wide and flat (like a fettucini noodle) and had the perfect toothsome texture. They picked up the flavor of the broth quickly when dipped.

Two pork slices were served atop the noodles. They were thinly sliced and tender and cold like the noodles.

I liked the coating on the tofu cubes. I asked the chef what he used, and he told me–but I promised to keep his secret.

I love soft-boiled eggs marinated in soy sauce, so I had a second helping for the meal. I enjoyed talking to the chef about the process for making a perfect soft-boiled egg. He told me the trick is to prick a tiny hole at the bottom of the egg so that the internal gas can escape and to cook the egg for 6 min., then stop the cooking process with cold water and let it sit for 20 min.

The verdict: A hearty, pleasurable meal. I recommend you visit if you’re in the neighborhood.

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