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I recently took a trip to San Francisco where I proposed to my girlfriend on a beach near the entrance to San Francisco Bay. The sound of the ocean, the panoramic view, and the Golden Gate looming over the eastern horizon made for a sublimely romantic interlude; a memory that I will cherish forever.
The second best thing about San Francisco was the food and wine. Naturally as a chef, wherever I vacation, seeking out the local delicacies is always in the forefront of my itinerary. Given that this was my pre-honeymoon, I was in an even greater celebratory mood. Nothing was to be spared on my extravaganza of gastronomic rejoicing. Here are some of the delights that we enjoyed that San Francisco is famous for.
Fisherman’s Wharf may be a tourist trap but it tenders one of the jewels of the Pacific: Dungeness crab. Dungeness crab is found on the Pacific coast from Alaska to Mexico. Averaging one to four pounds they are considerably larger than the eastern Blue Crab. This means more meat for your efforts and in my opinion, better tasting meat at that. Moreover, they are served already cracked. Less work, more meat. It doesn’t get any better than that. Try them chilled with cocktail sauce and lemon.
Although oysters are found the world over, there are a number of varieties unique to the Pacific coast. Although most of them are the same species, they are differentiated by their breeding grounds. Due to environmental variation from locale to locale, even identical species of oyster can vary in taste. Much like the same grape grown in Napa and Bordeaux will taste differently. Regardless of the variety I love oysters and no matter where you are in Frisco, you’re always within a stone’s throw of them. Hog Island, Olympias, Sweetwaters, and Westcott Bay oysters are just some of the Pacific aphrodisiacs that will tempt your palate.
Sourdough bread has been in existence for thousands of years but the term and San Francisco’s reputation for it began in the late 1800’s during the gold rush. Many of the gold miners began their quests in San Francisco where they procured supplies before trekking into the mountains. Naturally their provisions included food, one of which was the prerequisite materials for making bread. The sourdough bread they produced had a uniquely tangy and pleasant taste and hence, San Francisco and sour dough became eternally linked.
It would take scientists until the 1970s to isolate the specific strains of yeast unique to San Francisco sourdough. My advice is to return to the touristy Wharf and savor the clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl.
The Harris Steakhouse on Van Ness Ave. was my source for a Kobe rib-eye steak. Kobe beef is a type of cattle raised in Kobe Japan. The cattle are pampered and fed a special diet which at times includes beer. It is believed that beer stimulates their appetite. They are also brushed with sake since some producers think that skin and coat quality are related to the meat’s tenderness. In any event, be it the suds they enjoy with their meals or the massages, Kobe beef are incredibly tender and beefy tasting. Of course quality comes at a price. Be prepared to spend three times the amount of a traditional steak.
If you’re a chocolate-aholic, you must visit Ghirardelli’s, located in Ghirardelli Square near Fisherman’s Wharf. Ghirardelli’s is America’s longest continuously operating chocolate manufacturer. For over 150 years they have been producing premium chocolate. The raspberry filled chocolates are to die for. The square sports a number of other shops and eateries as well.
No trip to the San Francisco area would be complete without a meal at Chez Panisse in nearby Berkeley. Opened in 1971 by the now renowned chef Alice Waters, Chez Panisse is truly an American classic. What sets Chez Panisse apart is its unyielding loyalty to serving the freshest, organically grown, local ingredients. Combined with superior culinary dexterity, the result is an epicurean nirvana. As an example, our entrée featured Magruder Ranch grass-fed beef, a premium quality beef raised locally in Mendocino. It cost less than my Kobe steak yet easily rivaled its Japanese counterpart.
And despite my allegiance to French and Italian wine, how can one discuss the delights of San Francisco without mentioning Napa? We took a tour of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, a top notch winery located in the Stag’s Leap district just north of the town of Napa. They produce a variety of interesting wines headed by their flagship Cask 23, which along with their cabernet sauvignon S.L.V. where my two favorites.
But the height of my San Francisco gastronomic excursion was our engagement dinner at Rubicon, a contemporary, French influenced restaurant in the Nob Hill section of San Francisco. Flawless service accompanied our dinner highlighted by braised short ribs, duck breast, and the 1975 Chateau Latour. (Sorry Stag’s Leap, but there’s just no comparison.) Rubicon was perfect, but of course, given that I was celebrating my engagement, I’m somewhat biased. Mr. Bennett’s not the only one to leave his heart in San Francisco.